PAWTUCKET, R.I., Mar. 28 -- All animate organisms, from the globbiest amoeba to the most intricate human machine, share one thing in common: life. Life is what keeps you going, it's the light before the beginning of the tunnel. The meaning of life is simply this: it means so much that nobody can survive without it.
Every season, the 337 college basketball teams, in many certain ways, constitute living and breathing organisms -- each is a unique collection of blood and muscles and brains all working towards a common goal, each with an expected lifespan of six months (the same period of time that your average worker ant lives for, by the way). Some of these teeming teams just aren't cut out for this world and cut out early, others are snuffed out before their respective times, and still others -- like, say, the third place-cum
-NCAA participant 2006-07 Miami (Oh.) RedHawks -- get to live far beyond their expected span.
But only one team gets to end its season with a meaningful victory, and live forever. (We're not counting the survivor in Myles Brand's Purgatorio
-- er, the NIT.) For every other team, death comes swiftly.
I have to apologize for the stark and gloomy terms, but I'm trying to illustrate why I prefer the wide-eyed hopefulness of Midnight Madness or the mundane rhythms of late January's conference games to college basketball's final month, why it takes me at least until June to be able to even look a basketball in the eye after the final mid-major is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. For all the brief glimpses of overwhelming joy, for every One Shining Moment, there are a hundred final, tearful, bitter press conferences as losers' seasons are killed off in March's annual slaughter of the innocents.
When you go to as many games as I do, it can seem like walking through a graveyard.***
We had this coming, I guess. After a 2006 Tournament where low-seed upsets popped up all over the brackets like glorious spring crocuses, 2007's version was downright newsprint-grey by comparison. Things have a way of evening out, averaging out, finding their own level... and to be honest, we used up a whole lot of mid-major mojo last year. Too far-fetched or vapid of a concept? This isn't the gerrymandered NFL, where financial equality gives most teams a Super Bowl shot roughly every five years -- our game is allowed to move in strange and mysterious ways. And if baseball can have a collective soul that allows it to transcend its klutzy caretakers, we can too.
If you prefer a more rational explanation, consider the cold reality that very few of the mid-major champions we produced this year were as balanced or as fearsome as 2006's rich crop. Without naming names, many were too young and ahead of their time, or too defense-challenged, or too stoppable (due to one-man-show issues, offensive imbalance or a lack of the solid team-ball that marked last year's class). Judging from all the returning talent around Hoops Nation on second- and third-place teams, things should be better next year.
But still, there were our fair share of notable exceptions. The NCAA Tournament saw Virginia Commonwealth beat Duke (made sweeter by the long, shared border between VA and NC) and Winthrop overcome Notre Dame (putting a merciful end to the "Gregg Marshall can't win the big one" bullshit). And despite having comparable athletic budgets to VCU and WU, Butler and Southern Illinois submitted glorious high-seed seasons that led sportswags to con a nation into believing that the "mid-major" tag was obsolete forever (the next time either school suffers through a 13-game win season, let's hear your thoughts about the matter then, okay?). To me, the Bulldogs' and Salukis' sustained success from November through March, their national rankings and their incredible poise under pressure are only microns less impressive than what Mason did in '06, and I'm just as proud of them.***
With this essay, I declare the third season of The Mid-Majority closed, but not before a final accounting. (This is a bit of a tradition, see: "1":/season-1/2005/03/heres_where_the.php and "2":http://season2.midmajority.com/blog.php?ID=672) Good news first, because I'm just that type of guy... After spending 2005-06 blogging at ESPN.com full time, I resumed here three (sometimes four) times a week. We had cool "product roll-outs," like TMM To-Go
for mobile users and the Tournament Wiz
. And karma was on my side: within a week of Gonzaga's* Josh Heytvelt "hitting me in the face with a basketball":http://www.midmajority.com/blog/514, "he got his":http://www.midmajority.com/blog/518 .
In other news, traffic was up significantly over last year, and any technical issues were restricted to the ones I myself created (sorry about temporarily and mistakenly locking you out of the site for three days, IE users... I prefer to blame the Google Maps API). But I found that drawing Bally cartoons on the road, then finding a Kinko's to scan them in at, proved really difficult and later impossible. I regret that.(That's right, I said Gonzaga. We've had enough fun with "Unnamed Major Program From The Northwest" and its goofy acronym. Losing mini-mastermind Bill Grier is a huge blow, and you did lose 10 games this season. Welcome back to the fold, Zags. We love you.)
But as for games attended -- always a key benchmark of this site -- there was some real ground broken.
|Sat Nov 11 2006||Albany, NY||Game 1: Bucknell at Albany|
|Maggie Dixon Classic|
|Sun Nov 12 2006||West Point, NY||Game 2: Western Michigan vs. Pittsburgh|
|NIT Preseason Tip-Off|
|Tue Nov 14 2006||Charlotte, NC||Game 3: North Carolina vs. Sacred Heart|
|Charlotte, NC||Game 4: Winthrop vs. Iona|
|Wed Nov 15 2006||Charlotte, NC||Game 5: Winthrop vs. North Carolina|
|Charlotte, NC||Game 6: Iona vs. Sacred Heart|
|Fri Nov 17 2006||Norfolk, VA||Game 7: Florida Atlantic at Old Dominion|
|Sat Nov 18 2006||Fairfax, VA||Game 8: Wichita State at George Mason|
|Sun Nov 19 2006||Philadelphia, PA||Game 9: Bucknell at Saint Joseph's|
|Fri Nov 24 2006||Chicago, IL||Game 10: Jackson State vs. Savannah State|
|Chicago, IL||Game 11: Florida A&M vs. Illinois-Chicago|
|Chicago, IL||Game 12: Bradley vs. Rutgers|
|Chicago, IL||Game 13: Miami (Oh.) vs. Illinois|
|Sat Nov 25 2006||Chicago, IL||Game 14: Florida A&M vs. Savannah State|
|Chicago, IL||Game 15: Illinois-Chicago vs. Jackson State|
|Chicago, IL||Game 16: Miami (Oh.) vs. Rutgers|
|Chicago, IL||Game 17: Illinois vs. Bradley|
|Sun Nov 26 2006||Milwaukee, WI||Game 18: Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin-Milwaukee|
|Mon Nov 27 2006||Valparaiso, IN||Game 19: Marquette at Valparaiso|
|Tue Nov 28 2006||Chicago, IL||Game 20: Murray State at Illinois-Chicago|
|Wed Nov 29 2006||Cedar Falls, IA||Game 21: Iowa State at Northern Iowa|
|Blue and Gold Classic|
|Sat Dec 02 2006||Milwaukee, WI||Game 22: Northwestern State vs. Princeton|
|Milwaukee, WI||Game 23: North Dakota State at Marquette|
|Sun Dec 03 2006||Washington, DC||Game 24: George Mason vs. Bucknell|
|Washington, DC||Game 25: George Washington vs. Virginia Tech|
|Washington, DC||Game 26: Maryland vs. Notre Dame|
|Mon Dec 04 2006||Newark, NJ||Game 27: Lafayette at New Jersey Tech|
|Tue Dec 05 2006||Philadelphia, PA||Game 28: Fairleigh Dickinson at Drexel|
|Wed Dec 06 2006||Baltimore, MD||Game 29: Coppin State at Morgan State|
|Thu Dec 07 2006||West Long Branch, NJ||Game 30: Long Island-Brooklyn at Monmouth|
|Sat Dec 09 2006||Princess Anne, MD||Game 31: Howard at Maryland-Eastern Shore|
|Richmond, VA||Game 32: Virginia Commonwealth at Richmond|
|Sun Dec 10 2006||Harrisonburg, VA||Game 33: Dartmouth at James Madison|
|Mon Dec 11 2006||Lexington, VA||Game 34: South Carolina State at Virginia Military Institute|
|Sat Dec 16 2006||Nashville, TN||Game 35: Nicholls State at Vanderbilt|
|Sun Dec 17 2006||Murfreesboro, TN||Game 36: Louisiana-Monroe at Middle Tennessee State|
|Mon Dec 18 2006||Chattanooga, TN||Game 37: Davidson at Chattanooga|
|Tue Dec 19 2006||Bowling Green, KY||Game 38: North Texas at Western Kentucky|
|Wed Dec 20 2006||Martin, TN||Game 39: Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee-Martin|
|Thu Dec 21 2006||Murray, KY||Game 40: Samford at Murray State|
|Fri Dec 22 2006||Bowling Green, KY||Game 41: South Alabama at Western Kentucky|
|Fri Dec 29 2006||Poughkeepsie, NY||Game 42: Central Arkansas vs. Bucknell|
|Poughkeepsie, NY||Game 43: Northern Illinois at Marist|
|Sat Dec 30 2006||Poughkeepsie, NY||Game 44: Northern Illinois vs. Bucknell|
|Poughkeepsie, NY||Game 45: Central Arkansas at Marist|
|Tue Jan 02 2007||Morehead, KY||Game 46: Tennessee State at Morehead State|
|Wed Jan 03 2007||Bowling Green, KY||Game 47: Troy at Western Kentucky|
|Thu Jan 04 2007||Huntsville, AL||Game 48: Jackson State at Alabama A&M|
|Sat Jan 06 2007||Grambling, LA||Game 49: Southern at Grambling State|
|Mon Jan 08 2007||Itta Bena, MS||Game 50: Alabama State at Mississippi Valley State|
|Tue Jan 09 2007||Nashville, TN||Game 51: Mercer at Lipscomb|
|Thu Jan 11 2007||Natchitoches, LA||Game 52: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Northwestern State|
|Sat Jan 13 2007||Lake Charles, LA||Game 53: Stephen F. Austin at McNeese State|
|Mon Jan 15 2007||Alcorn State, MS||Game 54: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Alcorn State|
|Wed Jan 17 2007||Worcester, MA||Game 55: Navy at Holy Cross|
|Thu Jan 18 2007||New Britain, CT||Game 56: Fairleigh Dickinson at Central Connecticut State|
|Sat Jan 20 2007||Farmville, VA||Game 57: Savannah State at Longwood|
|Richmond, VA||Game 58: Old Dominion at Virginia Commonwealth|
|Mon Jan 22 2007||Cullowhee, NC||Game 59: Elon at Western Carolina|
|Tue Jan 23 2007||Cookeville, TN||Game 60: Murray State at Tennessee Tech|
|Wed Jan 24 2007||Boone, NC||Game 61: Furman at Appalachian State|
|Thu Jan 25 2007||Buies Creek, NC||Game 62: North Florida at Campbell|
|Sat Jan 27 2007||Rock Hill, SC||Game 63: Coastal Carolina at Winthrop|
|Sun Jan 28 2007||Stony Brook, NY||Game 64: Vermont at Stony Brook|
|Mon Jan 29 2007||Boston, MA||Game 65: Drexel at Northeastern|
|Wed Jan 31 2007||Worcester, MA||Game 66: American at Holy Cross|
|Thu Feb 01 2007||Detroit, MI||Game 67: Wisconsin-Green Bay at Detroit|
|Sat Feb 03 2007||Malibu, CA||Game 68: Gonzaga at Pepperdine|
|Long Beach, CA||Game 69: Pacific at Long Beach State|
|Irvine, CA||Game 70: Cal State Northridge at California-Irvine|
|Mon Feb 05 2007||Los Angeles, CA||Game 71: Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount|
|Wed Feb 07 2007||Conway, AR||Game 72: Stephen F. Austin at Central Arkansas|
|Thu Feb 08 2007||Arlington, TX||Game 73: Lamar at Texas-Arlington|
|Sat Feb 10 2007||Philadelphia, PA||Game 74: Delaware at Drexel|
|Philadelphia, PA||Game 75: Harvard at Pennsylvania|
|Sun Feb 11 2007||Baltimore, MD||Game 76: Fairfield at Loyola (Md.)|
|Mon Feb 12 2007||Dover, DE||Game 77: Maryland-Eastern Shore at Delaware State|
|Tue Feb 13 2007||Philadelphia, PA||Game 78: Princeton at Pennsylvania|
|Thu Feb 15 2007||West Hartford, CT||Game 79: Maryland-Baltimore County at Hartford|
|Sat Feb 17 2007||Indianapolis, IN||Game 80: Southern Illinois at Butler|
|Mon Feb 19 2007||Chattanooga, TN||Game 81: Elon at Chattanooga|
|Tue Feb 20 2007||Cookeville, TN||Game 82: Austin Peay at Tennessee Tech|
|Thu Feb 22 2007||Clarksville, TN||Game 83: Eastern Kentucky at Austin Peay|
|Sat Feb 24 2007||Cheney, WA||Game 84: Sacramento State at Eastern Washington|
|Sun Feb 25 2007||Bozeman, MT||Game 85: Northern Arizona at Montana State|
|Mon Feb 26 2007||Pocatello, ID||Game 86: Montana at Idaho State|
|Tue Feb 27 2007||Pocatello, ID||Game 87: Montana State at Idaho State|
|Atlantic Sun Quarterfinals|
|Thu Mar 01 2007||Johnson City, TN||Game 88: Gardner-Webb vs. Belmont|
|Johnson City, TN||Game 89: Campbell vs. Jacksonville|
|Johnson City, TN||Game 90: Stetson at East Tennessee State|
|Johnson City, TN||Game 91: Mercer vs. Lipscomb|
|Ohio Valley Semifinals|
|Fri Mar 02 2007||Nashville, TN||Game 92: Samford vs. Austin Peay|
|Nashville, TN||Game 93: Tennessee Tech vs. Eastern Kentucky|
|America East Quarterfinals|
|Sat Mar 03 2007||Boston, MA||Game 94: Maryland-Baltimore County vs. Maine|
|Boston, MA||Game 95: Albany vs. New Hampshire|
|Boston, MA||Game 96: Binghamton at Boston University|
|America East Semifinals|
|Sun Mar 04 2007||Boston, MA||Game 97: Maryland-Baltimore County vs. Vermont|
|Boston, MA||Game 98: Albany at Boston University|
|Metro Atlantic Semifinals|
|Bridgeport, CT||Game 99: Niagara vs. Loyola (Md.)|
|Mon Mar 05 2007||Richmond, VA||Game 100: George Mason vs. Virginia Commonwealth|
|MEAC First Round|
|Tue Mar 06 2007||Raleigh, NC||Game 101: Howard vs. Hampton|
|Raleigh, NC||Game 102: Bethune-Cookman vs. Coppin State|
|Thu Mar 08 2007||Cleveland, OH||Game 103: Eastern Michigan vs. Toledo|
|Cleveland, OH||Game 104: Ohio vs. Miami (Oh.)|
|Cleveland, OH||Game 105: Central Michigan vs. Akron|
|Cleveland, OH||Game 106: Western Michigan vs. Kent State|
|Fri Mar 09 2007||Cleveland, OH||Game 107: Miami (Oh.) vs. Toledo|
|Cleveland, OH||Game 108: Kent State vs. Akron|
|Sat Mar 10 2007||Cleveland, OH||Game 109: Miami (Oh.) vs. Akron|
|NCAA Opening Round|
|Tue Mar 13 2007||Dayton, OH||Game 110: Niagara vs. Florida A&M|
|NCAA First Round|
|Fri Mar 16 2007||Columbus, OH||Game 111: Albany vs. Virginia|
|Columbus, OH||Game 112: Long Beach State vs. Tennessee|
|Columbus, OH||Game 113: Illinois vs. Virginia Tech|
|Columbus, OH||Game 114: Holy Cross vs. Southern Illinois|
|NCAA Second Round|
|Sun Mar 18 2007||Columbus, OH||Game 115: Tennessee vs. Virginia|
|Columbus, OH||Game 116: Virginia Tech vs. Southern Illinois|
But for a guy who made his name and a site that staked its claim with a self-funded "100 Games Project":/season-1/ in 2004-05, I couldn't and didn't celebrate the total and complete disposal of that round-figured mark. Nowadays, I can call up a school and say, "Hi, I'm Kyle Whelliston, you know, that crazy-ass ESPN.com mid-major guy? Mind if I come over?" And they're all like, "Sure, Kyle, you bet! We'll have a front row seat for you!" (Conversation simulated, natch.) So in some ways, it's a little like cheating.
There's certainly a lot of ramshackle charm I miss about that first season three years ago, all the "Go Kyle Go" e-mails and the offers of free beer and places to sleep. But I don't miss scraping for ticket money in the couch, or trying to explain to my then-new wife that I was on a Mission From Gahd and that the journey was sure to end up somewhere worthwhile.
I don't get very many well-wisher e-mails anymore (it's mostly "constructive criticism"), or website donations for a largely ad-free site (although Blue Ribbon kicks in some for the hosting in return for the presented-by tag -- nice of them), or free beer (darn). I fully understand that part of it, I'm perceived as being part of The Establishment now. But what cramps my nostalgia the most is that a large number of the site's original readers have turned against me -- I've sold them out, or disappointed them, or failed to provide them with a certain amount of zing.
But I'm not stupid enough to fall for it. Without exception, the message boards and blogs and e-mailers that have abandoned the TMM cause are supporters of schools that have cycled over since championship success in 2004-05, and are experiencing changed fortunes, different coaching situations and/or massive rebuilding projects. The only real difference between then and now is that I'm not speaking in glowing terms about their teams every day, and I guess that serves as evidence that there was a disconnect about this site's purpose to begin with.
Don't get me wrong, I love to chronicle teams that "lose in interesting ways":http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/columns/story?id=2710217 , but there's only so much of that kind of thing that readers are willing to take. Folks are naturally attracted to winning (ask anyone in charge of selling tickets for a 7-20 team), and a large part of my job is to discuss which mid-major teams are leading conferences, winning championships, and which stand the best chance of taking down the big boys when mid-March rolls around. Spending the bulk of my time on victors instead of vanquished is necessary for me to stay in a neighborhood somewhere near "relevant."
However, this leaves me with a very strange core audience -- one that confounds, mystifies and repulses me in equal measure. I call it "Cinderella Syndrome" -- a disorder that causes people to slip in and out of underdog costumes as easily as NBA fans trade in their Kobe for D-Wade replica jerseys (and back again), which makes America glom onto any underdog that wins, whether it be Kent State 2002, George Mason 2006 or Butler 2007. All that matters is that it's a mid-major, and that it's winning.
I had a good conversation about this phenomenon last month with my friend and colleague "Michael Litos":http://caahoops.blogspot.com/ (who wrote "a book you should buy":http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&EAN=9781402208676&itm=2). We agreed that underdogism was something that resounded in the national psyche, and that there may a little bit of weird guilt involved.
"As a country, we're not the underdog anymore," he said. "We overthrew the British a long time ago. Now, America is so large that it reaches everywhere, the world's policeman. Maybe there's a part of us that secretly yearns for that uphill struggle."
OK, that I get, but not the part about using temporary, disposable dopplegangers. Honestly, I don't get you people. How satisfying is it, as a sports fan, to bounce from bandwagon to bandwagon, to pull on any clothing that looks like it belongs to a dangerous sheep? If you stuck with Butler after the Sweet 16 season in 2002-03, and steadfastly believed in the Bulldogs when they went 13-15 two years later, I can only imagine how rewarding this Sweet 16 run was on a personal, and perhaps spiritual, level. For the rest of you, I don't know what to say except that we'll find you someone new to root for next March.***
In 2005-06, as the reach of the site expanded to include statistics and historical data (and hoo boy, there's a lot of that around here), I began to mentally separate "readers" and "users." The website statistics indicate that there are literally tens of thousands of "users" each day, and maybe 1500 "readers." Whichever group you fall into (I'm guessing "readers"), you have likely experienced this gulf in the form of a nightly site slowdown during the late evenings, when the "users" descend on the site to pick apart the tempo-free box scores, performance grids and the updated team stats.
The irony -- if you can even call it that -- is that this site was initially born as a repository for mid-major information in an age when such was lacking. I started a companion blog, along with a gimmicky quest, and trust me... I didn't get to the point to where I can make a living off college basketball by providing Sun Belt game times.
And on top of that, I'm too stuck in my Kerouac/Kuralt pigeonhole to be taken seriously by the stathead community, or even to get compilation credit from the general populace at large (hello, morons on certain message boards: five minutes each on this site and Pomeroy's site will conclusively prove that our databases are unique and different... nobody's "stealing" anything). So I'm not getting much out of this by making it public -- starting next season, the stats will be spun off, sold or otherwise excised, and if that means I lose 85% of my audience, bully for me. The "users" weren't helping pay the bills anyway.***
Considering that I witnessed games in all four time zones in 27 different states (and one district), attended seven conference tournaments, drove 15,481 miles, and slept in 32 different truck stops, this year went extremely smoothly -- nothing untoward, life-threatening or irreversible (I'm talking to you, 10 extra pounds).
But I keep going back to the conversation I had with the Richmond cop who took me downtown after the CAA first round in March 2006, to file a police report after my rental car had been smashed in by multiple crowbars. To pass the time, he asked me what I do.
"I travel around and go to college basketball games," I said. "A lot of college basketball games. Then I write about them."
"So, you're a traveling journalist-storyteller type," he replied.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Wow," he said, pausing briefly. "I didn't know there were any of you left."
Unfortunately, with all the celebrity sports opinion-makers around, the traveling journalist-storyteller type is a dead species at worst and some sort of weird anachronism at best... and should probably be wearing a fedora with "Press" in the hatband in either event. These days, "sportswriting" is filled with first-person garbage filed by people who are more interested in injecting themselves into the story instead of covering it.
But I mean, seriously -- in a world of blogs and message boards, do we really need our sportswriters to sidle up to us, speak directly to us, be our know-it-all I-was-there pals? Do we need their open letters of advice to sports stars, when we can easily get the same exact thing from a 17-year old with a TypePad account and a Fathead in their bedroom? Opinions are well, you know, they're certainly not retentive. The people who are paid to attend sporting events (and given free courtside seats) should be conduits between the experience and those who weren't there, and if it's as boring as rote AP wire copy, you're fired. In any case, get out of the way and let me pretend I was there.
I take an enormous amount of pride in the fact that I made it through an entire year of regular ESPN.com contributions, and did not slip into first-person once. Not once
(check the archives). But my continued status as a national voice -- should it continue at all -- should be taken as a one-man referendum on whether that matters anymore. I'm not claiming saviorship of the restrained school of sportswriting, but it certainly is lonely in here with all the I/me/my. I save that stuff for the blog (or the chats).
And there's the larger questions of whether people want stories at all, or just a validation of what they already hold to be true. Politicos gravitate towards the "news" that doesn't challenge their beliefs (liberals to Air America as conservatives to Fox News), and so it is with sports fans. Most would rather experience big, sloppy, wet blowjobs on their favorite programs, players and coaches, and that's what gets the bulk of the page views, message board mentions and Nobel Prize for Being Smart nominations -- in that respect, fans get the columnists they deserve. Few want to hear actual analysis, unless it's an analysis of how good their team is ("genius!") -- certainly not a list of its shortcomings ("idiot!").
Speaking as the first product of the sports blogosphere to make a living at this (sorry, Leitch), I am never going to be a big media star, and I don't aspire to be one. As I say every year in this season-closer, I want to go to basketball games and write about them, and will do so as long as it's financially feasible.
So where does that leave this site? At this point, I don't know. But I will say this: it will come back on November 1, 2007 different, smaller, leaner... and possibly supported by advertisements that will cover the gap between TMM's $178 PayPal income for 2006-07 and the actual costs of running this site. The fourth season of The Mid-Majority won't be about front-running, "users," self-aggrandizement, or substituting storymaking for storytelling.
Stripped of thousands of pages of unsustainable noise, it will speak simply and clearly about what it was supposed to be about from the beginning: the uphill struggle this country secretly yearns for.The good news is now you're smaller,
The bad news is you can be smaller than that.
Go suck some souls, be a reader, get used,
Laugh at a funeral or two.
Laugh and laugh 'til all the chameleons turn black,
Laugh and laugh til you're told, 'Please don't come back.'
Then fake incredulous, say, 'I just can't believe...
How'd it get this late so early?'
Say, 'Ain't life a grand' and 'I'm in awe of y'all,'
Then drop into your haunted bunk...
Go to your touchless times, out where the water's drying,
Go past the 'No Attractions Past This Point' sign...
What you'll find there are all flaws in progress,
Where all songs are one song, and that song is "Don't Forget."