SAB HOUSTON -- For the past five months and one day, I've been very careful about making as few forward-looking statements as possible -- except when specifically hired to. This business, this "sports writing," is filthy with predictions about future events that we writers have no control over, and the best that one can hope for is to be less wrong than others. The amount of surprise, wonder and happiness that Season 7 has provided has been well worth the absence of that dynamic, and I'm more than happy to be considered a fool for other reasons.
VCU will play Butler this evening, here at Reliant Stadium in Houston. There has never seen a game like this. In 1979, the last time in the Division I era that programs this size comprised half of the Final Four, Penn and Indiana State were on opposite sides of the bracket branch. Only one made it through to the last game. In 2011, a team from the Colonial Athletic Association will play a team from the Horizon League for a spot in the National Championship Game. The only way to top this is two Red Line teams in the final, but those are dreams for tomorrow.
Sports importance and legacy are measured in interest. Before Bird-Magic, college basketball's National Championship didn't mean as much as it does now. March Madness is a multi-billion industry now, and the Final Four isn't shown on tape-delay anymore. The core reason why there's been a split between haves and have-lesses in Our Game is the care deficit; the larger schools and conferences have more money because more people give a crap about them. Teams in the lower conferences can't get on ESPN, can't get national attention, aren't worth the extra research.
But by bracket chance, random luck, and extreme effort, VCU and Butler have created this moment together. There will be a captive audience of 71,000 in a football stadium (many of whom bought their tickets last summer) and millions watching at home. They'll be watching. They can't ignore us anymore. Whatever happens, this is a victory for our side.
Virginia Commonwealth 28-11 (12-6) vs. Butler 27-9 (13-5) - (at Houston, TX) - 6:09 pm We have friends on both sides of this aisle, and fans of both teams have described this as a game of mutual respect -- even in Houston, there's no sense of manufactured sportz hate. After this, ranks will close and the losers will root their conquerors on. All we ask of VCU and Butler is that they give us the best and most valiant game possible, one that is worthy and dignified as the level of basketball they represent.
For one side, the season will end in a loss. The other will continue. Neither will be forgotten.