Thursday, March 29, 2018 at 7:23 AM

March Madness Is Thinking Sister Jean Has Anything to Do with Loyola’s Miracle. Welcome Back, UConn

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament as “March Madness.” They do so to exploit “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” inherent in low-seeded teams (a.k.a. Cinderellas) upsetting top-seeded ones — often with buzzer-beating hail marys.

Incidentally,

I decided years ago to forego the cheap thrill of filling out brackets and feigning agony as my picks got knocked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery. Mind you, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would’ve welcomed the respite from drudgery, which Bracketology for office pools provides. The aim is clearly not to guess the result of each game; it’s to see whose bracket sustains the least number of casualties throughout the tournament.

(“NCAA March Madness — and Then There’s the Women of UConn,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 30, 2017)

In any event, the results hardly ever live up to the hype. For example, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Cinderella stories played out in at least half of the eight regions this year. In fact, it played out in only one – as the Final Four brackets attest:

Women’s Bracket

1 UConn vs. 1 Notre Dame

1 Mississippi State vs. 1 Louisville

Men’s Bracket

11 Loyola vs. 3 Michigan

1 Villanova vs. 1 Kansas

Granted, the thrill of watching Loyola make it to this Final Four probably compensates for the lack of thrill in the other brackets. (Nobody should be surprised that Michigan made it.)

But I take exception to the willing suspension of disbelief that has everyone ascribing Loyola’s success more to the prayers of Sister Jean, its 98-year-old chaplain, than to the skills of its players.

Five thousand Sister Jean bobbleheads were sold in just 48 hours, a hall-of-fame record that goes along with all the T-shirts and socks now bearing her likeness. …

We asked her if she thinks God is on Loyola’s side. ‘Right now, yes,’ she responded.

(CBS News, March 26, 2018)

This just confirms that, for the business that is NCAA Basketball, any narrative that lures people to buy into the hype will do: ka-ching!

Meanwhile, UConn has resumed its seemingly invincible run through the women’s tournament. Which is why I suspect the NCAA prevailed upon it to throw its Final Four game against Mississippi State last year just to manufacture suspense. Trust me, it’s no stretch to suspect the NCAA Board of Governors of orchestrating such venal contrivance.

Boston Globe columnist [Dan Shaughnessy] said the Huskies ‘are killing the women’s game’ by being too dominant. …

‘Watch? No thanks.’

(FOX Sports, March 28, 2016)

Another championship last year would have meant a five-peat for UConn – a feat no men’s team has come close to matching in the modern era. That, in turn, would have made a six-peat feat a foregone conclusion this year, which (given the NCAA’s mercenary interests) would have diminished what little coverage the media usually accord the women’s tournament.

Mind you, if any men’s team were as dominant as this women’s team, the media would be covering that men’s team the way they used to cover Tiger Woods. To be fair, the media do not even highlight UConn’s dominance the way they highlight Serena Williams’. But I digress …

I have hailed the UConn women in many commentaries over the years. And I have never failed to decry the yawns that continually greeted their milestone accomplishments.

Unfortunately, what I wrote in this regard — in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009 — remains as relevant today as it was when I wrote it nine years ago.

____________________

Instead of commanding network coverage in primetime like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league — the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion.

Moreover, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.

____________________

Sure enough, you probably know more about Sister Jean than any women’s team.

I appreciate that most people (men and women) think women’s Basketball can’t match the excitement of men’s. Except that I used to think women’s Tennis can’t match the excitement of men’s. I still watch a lot of Tennis, but I haven’t watched men play in years.

I hope my testimony disabuses you of any sexist thought you may have in this regard. Give women’s Basketball a try. The more you watch, the more the media will show.

Incidentally, apropos of (real) indentured servitude, I’ve been in the vanguard of those calling for the NCAA to pay all “student athletes.” It should pay them commensurate with the revenues they help generate for their respective colleges. I’ve delineated my argument for this in many commentaries, including “Student Athletes Make Billions (for Colleges) but Most Graduate Poor…and Dumb,” January 16, 2014, and “Salaries of College Coaches Reflect Enduring Master-Slave Relationships,” October 28, 2016.

As it happens, the NCAA formed a special committee recently to redress the root causes of corruption in college sports.

‘The recent news of a federal investigation into fraud in college basketball made it very clear the NCAA needs to make substantive changes to the way we operate, and do so quickly,’ [NCAA president Mark] Emmert said. …

Emmert and the NCAA have put together a committee that will be chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice … to rework the sport’s weaknesses.

(cbssports.com, October 11, 2017)

Of course, much of that fraud stems from third parties paying student athletes crumbs under the table. Therefore, if this committee fails to recommend a duly sanctioned system for paying them, all other recommendations will amount to, well, a whitewash.

That said, I’m pulling for UConn to reclaim its crown by defeating Notre Dame in the Final Four and whichever team it faces in the Final Dance. No doubt UConn hopes to tango with Mississippi State to avenge last year’s loss.

As for the men’s tournament, I feel inspired, as the son of a preacher man, to pull for Michigan to upset Loyola. Because, with all due respect to Sister Jean, it’s imperative to rebuke the narrative that God has anything to do with its success.

Nothing betrays the spectacle Sister Jean has become quite like Michigan wheeling out 100-year-old “Grandma Rose” to trash talk her. God help us!

Still, after performing this NCAA exorcism in the Final Four, it would only seem fair for Michigan to win the championship game.

Go UConn! Go Michigan!

Related commentaries:
NCAA 2017
Indentured servitude

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