CLEVELAND -- Good morning. As usual at the NCAA Tournament, I am surrounded by people typing. I know exactly what they're typing about, because I get to read it, all of it, within hours of the moment when they hit "send." I also get to hear them talk with each other about what they're going to write, bouncing ideas off each other, so I get a good idea of what it's going to be about beforehand. It's the grand process of creation and distribution of the conventional wisdom: arguments on what constitutes excellence, and agreement that nearly everything about the game is broken and needs fixing.
Some folks think that what's done in this space during this time of year is too weepy and lachrymose to qualify as sports journalism. All the stuff about "it ends in a loss," "this game will hurt you," broken constellations. But listening to a bunch of morally superior cranks talking about the way things oughta be? That, to me, is depressing as f___.
One function of the modern sport(s) media is to measure the effort of sporting participants, players and coaches, against an agreed-upon distorted standard. Winning at the right time is more important than winning in general, and losing at the wrong time is punishable. It's generally figured that this is the right time, and so a victory at the NCAA Tournament is worth more than all regular season wins combined. Thirty-win teams that crash out here are failures, and teams that excel all season in the shadows and break through on the bracket are instant and cozy heroes.
The more you think about it, the less it makes sense, but it's all a function of attention span and time investment. All of us in here are qualified to speak on what we know and have seen, but there's a great human temptation to extrapolate that witness wisdom to that which is unknown. The level of super-ego required to communicate with authority to an audience greater than a small room further complicates matters.
But this is not open to argument or interpretation: each eligible NCAA Division I men's basketball team begins the season with the goal of winning the National Championship, and all but one will fall short. Schools spend millions and millions of dollars in pursuit of this title, and so it stands to reason that one of the teams that spends the most will earn it. For the teams we talk about from November to March, every day the terminal loss doesn't come is a day of hope. For several champions of smaller leagues, that day came on Thursday, in public, in front of everybody and all the judges.
End, end, end, end. But others made sure that their lights stayed on for at least one more day.
But we're happiest for our friend Donnie Tyndall, whose No. 13 Morehead State Eagles defeated a school, Louisville, that nearly doubled them up two seasons ago
. Now, he gets to move on to the Round of 32, and get speculated about by columnists in regards to his next career move.
A year ago, Coach Tyndall was starring in our sixth Epilogue
. Earlier in the season
, he sat down with us after a loss to Kent State, and we talked about what it is to love a sport that offers rewards to so few.
TMM: On the site, I've spent time this season pondering the inherent tragedy of what we do. We put ourselves in this game, and it demands that we give it our entire souls. On the flipside of that, the game doesn't love us back. It will chew us up and spit us out, and forget us altogether when we're too old or unable to do what we do. Others will come and take our places. It's crazy for us to do this. Why do we do this, Coach?
DT: Two summers ago, I went to this conference where I heard Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly talk. I grew up in Michigan, so Isiah was one of my heroes. He said something that I wrote down, something I keep in my organizer and in my heart. He said, "The game will hurt you." So simple, so direct, but you know how Isiah talks. It was so eloquent. "I've done this, done that, played on Olympic teams, been MVP of the All-Star Game. But you know what... no matter who you are, the game will hurt you."
You're exactly right. I love basketball, and I've loved it since the fourth grade. It's been who I am, what I am, and it's what I'm about. But at the end of the day, especially during nights like tonight, you have to question yourself a little bit. I'm going to go home tonight after we talk, my daughters won't be there, and I'll be carrying around this loss to Kent State. You have to say, "Man, is all this worth it?"
worth it, and Our Game does
pay back and answer those questions sometimes. And this season, Coach Tyndall is helping to delay the seventh Epilogue. Because a Morehead State-Richmond game guarantees an Other 25 team in the Sweet Sixteen, our light will stay on until at least next Friday. So thanks, D.T., and hope to see you in Texas.