February 19, 2009 10:44 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
MORAGA, Cal. -- I've come to avidly dislike "bracketology" in all its forms, I don't make any bones or excuses about that. I can't stand bubble watching or seed projecting. I respect Joe Lunardi for combining computer power and over-the-top braggadocio to single-handedly ignite a cottage industry, and I think Cort Basham's approach is great -- he gathers a group of friends every March to create an actual mock committee to hash out a bracket. Everybody else is masturbating into a washcloth.
I don't think that characterization is too far out of line, especially since we're talking about "fantasy sports" here. Bracketology and tournament pools are part of a larger trend that includes fake baseball and pretend football. This fantasy is a dream of executive force and power over an uncertain future. I'm not so sure what any of that has to do with sports.
Fantasy sports seem like a response to a secret powerlessness. Average Fan, priced out of the arena and forced to watch through a TV filter that adds its own value-added storylines, wants his precious control back. Doughy and unathletic from the products hawked during the commercial breaks, Average Fan seeks to commoditize the very entities that alienated him. Overwhelmed with choices and cable channels, recasting the sports universe in his own image must seem like the only remaining option; the others are boredom, dissatisfaction and ADD.
There's a thin line between guessing and wondering, and I try not to cross it. Me, I love watching sports, and I'm happy to take them at face value. Sports provide studies of countervailing forces with wide arrays of variable attributes, a giant conundrum that continually solves itself, and that'll always be good enough for me.
It's getting more difficult to find kindred spirits, though. I once completed a circuit of all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums (and have the framed ticket stubs to prove it), but I haven't been to a MLB game in two years. Not because of steroids, an issue I'll leave to the Judgey McJudges, but because I can't find anybody to go with who will shut up about their fantasy team(s). If I go alone, there's always somebody nearby who's agonizing about either cheering for the home team or rooting for the WHIP he needs to overcome the Quahog Stewies for first place.
During the NCAA Tournament, listening to people bleat about their busted brackets is bad enough (and somehow my overwhelming urge to kick them in the nuts makes me the jerk). I don't know if bracketology will become prevalent that "I have them in as a West No. 5" is as common as "I'll never forgive George Mason for 2006." But since there are people actually making money at this, chances are good.
Besides, Average Fan needs something to do in February. I maintain that this is the second-best sports month of the year -- college basketball conference races, and once every four years there's the added bonus of the Winter Olympics. Watching hundreds of teams jockey for March position is the most fun I can think of. I know that I'm in the clear minority on that, because February is deemed a dead period in the American sports calendar. This is how bad it is.
Bikini babes in magazines are our last defense against widespread bracketology. I can live with that. But American sports have become so abstract a world, such a huge gulf exists between consumer and product, that distracting fantasies are necessary to keep folks interested. If I better understood the history of how and when this happened, I'd work harder to turn the ever-advancing tide.
As it is, we still have simple and unadorned sporting pleasures, like mid-major college basketball -- chaotic and strange at first appearance, but every completed game points towards something bigger, later. It's a 225-piece puzzle that may be just as sexy as the Springbok brand jigsaws of European churches that your great-grandma used to put together, but it's the way sports should be, used to be, and still can be. I'll save you a seat if you want.
Southern: Davidson fans were hoping they'd never ever have to find out what life without Stephen Curry is like. If last night is any indication, it's a pretty bleak picture. The Wildcats (15-2) played without their injured star, still recovering from a sprained ankle sustained on Saturday against Furman -- the rest of the team managed just 27 percent shooting in a 64-46 blowout loss at home, and lost to the surging Citadel (13-4) for the first time since 2001. Now Davidson has two red stains on the right side of their team sheet... and any talk of injuries in the War Room will have to include the fact that West Virginia wasn't at full strength when Davidson earned its lone top 50 win. Dreams of a first-ever two-bid SoCon (which would have to include The Citadel's first-ever bid after over a half-century of futility) are on hold for now.
Horizon League: Davidson's BracketBuster opponent, Butler, will also be limping into the weekend. The Bulldogs (13-3) lost their second straight game and completed a reverse sweep in Wisconsin with a 63-60 squeaker at Milwaukee. Butler was behind throughout, and as has been the case over the past few weeks, the team had trouble with turnovers. On four occasions in February, the normally sure-handed team has turned the ball over more than 20 percent of the time, including 14 last night. Matt Howard (20 points) is being relied on to do too much.
Colonial: CAA clarity is becoming harder and harder to come by. VCU is now alone in first place at 12-4 after beating Delaware handily, but the race for the top six tourney bids is headed for final-weekend showdowns that will likely need calculators and slide rules to decide. George Mason (11-5) edged Drexel (10-6) in the G!O!T!N! by a 49-48 count, and head to Creighton for what suddenly looks like the most important Buster of the weekend. Northeastern has lost four of five after being buzzer-beat at home by Georgia State and is, according to a consortium of leading economists, officially in a full-blown recession. Hofstra and Old Dominion, both winners yesterday, own 10-6 records. How will it end?
U'useless Stat of the Day
We deal in round numbers around here, always have. So this stands as the 1,000th post in the history of this site. It took four years, three months and nine days to get here -- 1,562 total days have passed since The Mid-Majority opened. It might have happened sooner if we didn't take seven months off every year. We're not sure if we'll ever get to 2,000, but we'll try our best.
For tax purposes, this site has always operated as its own separate economic ecosystem. So I've kept meticulous records of how much is spent on airfares, rental cars, food, gas and the occasional hotel -- we've never done this from a desk. With a simple number to divide by, I can proudly say that each of the 1,000 TMM posts have cost an average of $30.52 to produce. Economies of scale, I guess.
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