Skip to main content
Original Issue


Every Cinderella and her brother make the NCAAs

Not long ago the great state of Nebraska had a U.S. senator named Roman Hruska. In defense of a nincompoop who had been nominated to the Supreme Court, Hruska declared that because there were so many rather average people with average minds, it was only right, in our democracy, that such mediocre citizens be represented by mediocrity in high places.

For some reason, the Hruska Theory of Representative Egalitarianism never flew in Washington. Although we have always had an inordinate number of everyday human beings serving in our nation's capital (witness Senator Hruska), they at least pose as leaders, and we accept them as such. But Hruska fans can take comfort in the fact that his legacy thrives in at least one place—the NCAA basketball tournament, which is now dedicated to the belief that quality must be punished, that if enough average teams are given a second chance and a three-point basket, one of them will prevail.

Understand, it's all fun and perfectly harmless, and for student-athletes it fills hours that might otherwise be wasted in class. Moreover, it provides more exposure for the dreadful, grating voice that comes from this man DV, who seeks to inhale and bleat at the same time, while oyezing meaningless initials over the public airwaves. But the NCAA tournament has nothing to do with determining the best college basketball team in the land.

The postseason field has been enlarged to 64 teams, many of which lost the last game of the regular season. In the stodgy old days, only a couple dozen or so schools qualified—all of them conference champions or outstanding independents. No, the system wasn't perfect. Occasionally, the fourth-or fifth-best team in the nation would get locked out because it lost a conference tournament game or because the best team in the nation was also in that conference. And yes, weak conferences received automatic bids.

But unless you were a terrific independent, you had to be a conference champion to gain a shot at winning it all in March. You couldn't just get hot for a game or two, rise all the way to sixth place in your league and thereby earn (the preferred verb, invariably misused) a chance to meet Northeast Cupcake Tech (27-9) in the subregional lid-lifter in the Cactus Dome in Juàrez. Before Hruskaism infected the NCAAs, class told, and the best teams—or nearly the best teams—got to the Final Four, beat Houston and won.

This is not to say that I haven't been watching the tournament. I'm always fascinated to see, among other things, how basketball coaches I've never heard of all dress exactly the same, regardless of school, conference, creed or strategic orientation. Who is this universal basketball-coach tacky tailor? If Larry Brown moves around so much, why can't he teach other coaches a little taste in clothes?

Anyway, a few days back I zapped MTV for NCAATV because it was 4 a.m. Mountain Time, and the matchup in the Indian Ocean Territorial between Nevada-Las Vegas (27-9) and Vassar-Poughkeepsie (27-9) at the Down Under Dome in Perth was about to start. Games like this have been diverting. However, it would have been even more fun and every bit as meaningful if all 64 teams had simply showed up at Wheel of Fortune and had Pat and Vanna spin to determine the champion.

For years, sensible people have laughed at the NBA and similar professional institutions because everybody still standing at the end of the regular season earns a playoff berth. But each round of the NBA playoffs comprises a series of games. If the NBA had one-game knockouts, as the NCAA has, you can bet that some rinky-dink club would get lucky one night, beat the Celtics or Lakers, and the championship would be won by the likes of San Antonio or Cleveland. This would immediately be called a travesty. But on NCAATV this sort of thing happens all the time, and it is called charming and madness and Cinderella-like and peaking at the right time.

There are entirely too many references to Cinderella on NCAATV. I am tired of Cinderella coaches and Cinderella players and Cinderella teams, and if we could exorcise that bleeping Cinderella and her bleeping Prince Charming from the NCAA lexicon, I would be ever so grateful.

Still, I was glued to the set when Dalai Lama College (27-9) faced off against Duke (27-9) in the finals of the Pacific Rim Regional at the Carnival Dome in Rio. I didn't want to miss it because one of them was a Cinderella team and the other was peaking at the right time, although I can't remember which was which. But I knew both of them had a good chance to get to the Louisiana Super-dome in New Orleans and win this year's Hruska Cup.