Sports

What Makes the NCAA Tournament So Great

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Florida Gulf Coast and LaSalle are going to the Sweet 16. Either Wichita State or LaSalle will be in the Elite 8. Among the final 16 team in the NCAA Tournament are teams that were ranked 35, 43, 49, and 59 among the 68 teams who made the field. Ladies and gentleman, this is why the big dance is the single best event on the sports calendar.

Journalist's are not supposed to use the term “we.” We can be your family, maybe your friends, and your community, but not Derek Jeter. Pro athletes, who make millions of dollars, and are as loyal as where their next paycheck is coming from, generally have little in common with the people of the city that they represent. Most professional athletes “go home” during the off-season, and work at the ballpark in the same way that American's work at a business, as a means to earn a paycheck, provide for their family, and afford the luxury’s that many people desire.

Pro sports have piped in music, corporate clients, marginally important lengthy regular seasons, and playoffs that last months on end with half the league being invited to the postseason. College sports have primarily student-athletes (there indeed is a minority who are simply in school to prepare for a career in pro sports), with rabid student fan bases, alumni groups, bands, cheerleaders, and an actual sense of community and pride that rightfully can be called “we.”

Your favorite team might be the Yankees. You don't play for them, or work for them, but are merely a client of their stadium and their paraphernalia. You spent time in class, at parties, around athletes, in stadiums, maybe even once at the library in college. The year, or four years, or eight years you spent at your school gives you the right to feel a part of that team.

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In pro sports players are drafted. In college, players are recruited. One system you are told where to go and who will pay you. In the other, you chose the school based on whatever criteria you want, you get to pick your home.

In college football only the teams that play in the right conferences, who a computer likes at the end of the season, get to play for something meaningful. In college basketball, if you win the Atlantic Sun, the league that Jeff Sagarin ranks as the 22nd best in the nation, you get to make the tournament. If you're Florida Gulf Coast you get your chance at mighty Georgetown of the Big East, and San Diego State of the Mountain West. When you beat them both, you get Florida, who refused to scrimmage you at the beginning of the season.

Pro sports have the best players. They do not provide the best atmosphere, the greatest upsets, or the most fun. There is only one sporting event that gives Cinderella a chance. Yes, usually it is a blue blood program that ends up winning, but sometimes VCU, Butler, or George Mason crashes the party. Isn't it more fun when everyone gets a chance, win and you move on, lose and you go home? During the NCAA Tournament, we the fans, we the alumni, we the students, we the band, we the cheerleaders, we are the winners.