I am still trying to digest what I witnessed this weekend. My alma mater’s basketball team just reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Cornell University is part of the Ivy League, which means no athletic scholarships and teams that trek across large swaths of America’s Northeast by bus to play basketball in small decrepit gymnasiums. The games are never scheduled on weeknights and are not televised. There is relatively little fanfare, the rivalries are extremely insular, there is no conference tournament, and critics rightly claim that it barely resembles Division I basketball. However, Cornell’s current squad is senior-laden and has been building momentum and chemistry for years. This was their third straight trip to the big dance. Still, a total dismantling of Temple and Wisconsin, two serious basketball schools?! Unthinkable. I’m over the moon. They play Kentucky—probably the biggest powerhouse of them all—next. Wow.
When I was in college, my friends and I treated NCAA tournament games with reverence but also open resentment. For my money the NCAA tournament is America’s most captivating sporting event, particularly in its first weekend, when the games fire nonstop and strange matchups abound, giving kids from even the most obscure schools a moment in the sun. The telecasts are filled with shots of students and alums from these varied institutions going absolutely bonkers. Being a huge fan of this event and going to one of the Ivy League’s perennial bottom-dwellers has always left me with bittersweet feelings about it; I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked at the crowd and thought to myself “I want to be them.” The frustration is captured nicely by the plight of my good friend Sherm, who was my freshman roomate at Cornell and has been my NCAA Tourney watching partner for nearly 20 years now. Sherm has always despised Duke University even more than the rest of us, because Duke is the perfect school for a kid who loves hoops—perennially ranked as one of the country’s top schools both academically and in basketball—and they rejected him, relegating him to a lifetime of interested but non-fanatical observation of March Madness. Until now.
It’s finally our turn! I appreciate the fact that this will likely be the only time in my life that I will be able to say that, and it makes it that much sweeter. GO BIG RED!
See you in Syracuse.