CLEVELAND -- Hundreds of seasons lie in ruins now, but there's never time to properly mourn them. Instead, mid-March is for celebrating mid-major championships and great victories, for getting golden tickets to the other side of the great gate of Selection Sunday. It's a time for Robert Morris' redemption, Morehead State's magic, and North Dakota State's Bison Fever.
But there are some still stuck in limbo, unsure of their fate. There is pain like this every year, the same desperate grasp for any good news, any at all, and we pass along the same advice to Davidson and Saint Mary's and Creighton as we always have to teams that are counting on external events. Forget it, you're out.
If salvation comes in the form of an NCAA reprieve, the distance between apathy and ecstasy is greater than that which separates tension and pleasure. Allow yourself the opportunity to feel the rush of being born again, and if it doesn't come at all, the hurt won't hurt as badly. For now, let it go. It's over... unless it isn't.
Good Morning Hoops Nation, on the other hand, is over. This is the final daily weekday post of Season 5, marking the end of the third of four chapters of our beautiful season
. This format isn't needed now; things get a little less structured and predictable once the great creaking pipes and tubes of the Big Bracket get wheeled out from the Indianapolis Westin's 15th Floor
Sunday evening. And it's another opportunity to thank all of you for following along for the last four months... especially to those who made sure the journey could continue
You can count on this: over the weekend, there will be another three Tourney Central posts, an update on Bally's travels, and the final State of the Other 22Â½ ratings for posterity's sake. But for all other intents and purposes, we'll see you on the other side.* * *
After a Southern Conference game in January, I was lollygagging around the court long after the fans had left -- like I usually do -- and came upon a group of pretty cheerleaders in a corner seating section, wearing their warmups, eating pizza. They offered me a piece, but it was pepperoni and I'm a vegetarian. That's a concept that's still yet to find purchase in a lot of areas of the country, and so I just told them that I'm a big animal lover. That was a lie.
It was a gateway to further conversation, and I asked a question I've wanted answered for a long time. When the cheerleaders run out on the court during time outs in a small gym, and very few people follow the cheers they lead, how does that feel? I have an excuse, since I'm usually on press row -- but I often notice that a lot of guys ignore the cheerleaders and talk to their friends or on cell phones... or they take pains not to make eye contact, as if it would be too awkward or creepy to actually watch the performance the girls (and guys) had worked so hard perfecting. Watch the people in the stands facing the cheerleaders, this happens all the time.
"Yeah, it could make you feel dumb if you let it," said a cute brunette (I think she said her name was Stacey). "I remember when I was a freshman, I thought, 'you know, what if people just sat there like that during the game, not making any noise or anything... would [the players] be motivated?' We have to just go out there and do our thing, no matter what."
Folks will debate endlessly whether or not cheerleading is a sport, but this much is for certain: there are none of the things that make college sports such an unseemly business -- no recruiting violations, selective NCAA rules enforcement, or bad money here. Cheerleading is as pure a collegiate corner as you're going to find... and south of the Red Line, where caring is a rare commodity, few pursuits are as noble. These girls don their school colors proudly, make sure they look nice, spend two hours screaming and yelling, and do so whether they're entertaining and motivating 10,000 fans or 200. They don't even have a scoreboard to tell them how well they've done at the end of a game. Cheerleading is its own reward, because it has to be.
What follows is the Tradition of Traditions. Mid-major cheerleaders and dance team members are some of the most beautiful, hard-working, tireless young women in the world. They're overlooked, occasionally disrespected, and sometimes they're kicked out of the gym. They deserve the same kind of love they give to their beloved schools. Give it to them.
Various photos: Icon SMI