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Keidel: March’s Madness

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Kansas Jayhawks fans cheer during the third round game against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at BOK Center on March 20, 2011 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Kansas Jayhawks fans cheer during the third round game against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament at BOK Center on March 20, 2011 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

By Jason Keidel
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Nature lifted a spring curtain on New York City on Friday, bathing our town in sunshine and sundresses, as buds swelled from bare trees, and the last ice from a bitter winter slithered into sewers.

March is an ornery month, a month removed from football, a tease for baseball, and an irritant to an already irritated fan base frothing for action. Basketball is a few drips of water in the deep chasm between the NFL and MLB. We have no choice. (With all due respect to the few hockey fans still wed to Mark Messier.)

And thus we have the NCAA tournament – March Madness – which lost most of its gravitas over the years because we don’t know any of the young men playing in the games.

The one-and-done prodigy – cynics may call him the Calipari kid – who uses college classrooms as a chalkboard funnel for the first sneaker deal, whisks out of our life before we get a chance to pat his pimpled cheeks.

Three of the five best players in the NBA – LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant – never slept on a campus. It takes about 120 credits for a college degree, but just 20 will get you through your freshman year, which is all John Wall, Carmelo Anthony, and Derek Rose desire in the nouveaux math of March Madness.

So the ardent follower of the NCAA tournament is drawn by the provincial bond of a college degree. If you’re not an alumnus, what do you care who wins?

It’s hard to believe that Tim Duncan is the last legend to get his sheepskin (from Wake Forest). But a B.A. in psychology means nothing today. You can’t paste it on your gold teeth, staple it to your sneakers, burn it into a tattoo, or wrap it around the soda you sell on YouTube.

Gambling is a large part of the pull behind the brackets, the chance to become king of the cubicles – for entertainment purposes only, of course! It seems we care more about President Obama going 15-1 on Friday than who ends up in the Final Four. As the field oddly swells from 64 teams to 68, the better answer in this period of parity is to condense the field. The teams and the tournament are too anonymous as is.

But you can’t question the festive bedlam it still provides – the cardiac abandon of teens playing ball for free, kids who know their bread won’t be buttered by the NBA brand. Most of the student-athletes we see today are actually student-athletes. And the turnstiles of current college ball make for more formidable Cinderella teams, like Butler, who stormed into the title game last year and just beat a perennially brittle Pittsburgh team that always seems to burn under the glare of big games.

I watched nearly every game since Thursday, and I can’t name two kids on any team. But, for a moment, it didn’t matter. The joy of being a young man, of having no job, having hair, and a limitless future beams from the TV screen. And perhaps it reminded you of when you were them. It’s a nice feeling.

So what am I saying? I’m saying it’s silly fun, but still fun, meaningless when juxtaposed with the NFL or MLB. New York is a baseball and football town that lost its grip on college basketball sixty years ago, save for a brief burp in Queens, when Lou Carnesecca kept our kids within the five boroughs. Steve Lavin had us giddy for a month, only to be slapped by the grim reality of Gonzaga. Should Lavin stick around, we may have something to munch on next March.

If your brackets haven’t imploded – I had Louisville in the Final Four – there’s still some Madness pumping in your hardened arteries. For the rest of us, we miss football while we await our baseball teams to come north sans Oliver Perez.

But when you have neither, either will do.

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

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