March Madness: Life’s Upsets and Chalk

In the world of US sports, March is both one of the most dormant, yet exciting times of the year.  NASCAR is settling into the grind of its season after the high of the Daytona 500. The NFL is busy with it’s off season deals and draft preparations. College football coaches are slowly stirring, prepping for spring practice. MLB is in Spring Training mode. The NHL is in the early half of its season. While NBA diehards sit on corners or barber shops or bus rides debating the fate of the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Spurs, Celtics and Thunder, there is only one sport that hits March like a lightning bolt that gets the entire nation’s attention fully:

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – AKA March Madness.

This thing literally has the current sitting President of the US, Barack Obama, on ESPN unveiling his bracket. Las Vegas, the betting mecca of the sports world, lives for the giant upsets that often happen during the first two rounds of the tournament. There will be many a bar, couch and water cooler will be filled with the sounds of cursing, cheering and cutting up the most treasured and frustrating symbol of the spectacle – their bracket sheet. Be subjected to the term “busted bracket” as a part of the common vernacular for the next 2-3 weeks.

Here’s why I like the NCAA Men’s (and Women’s version too, which is filled with good drama as well) Tournament – it sticks to the script of serving up both chalk and upsets in equal fashion. It is a great testament to life and team and overcoming adversity. So chalk in the sports term are those favored teams who are expected to be contenders in the tournament – the big name schools that have the top facilities and those huge alumni of famous and successful folks that pour tons of money into their school’s athletic department.

The first two rounds of the tournament are where most of the upsets happen. People take sheer delight in a small, non-nationally recognized basketball school beating one of the schools with those huge athletic departments. Buzzer beaters, hot shooters, lock down defense teams – college basketball can get ugly sometimes and it takes a while to understand what really happened and how hard the players fought in a 40-35 final score.

These kids often play their hearts out, driven by factors such as playing in the NBA, true camaraderie, and a unique sense of the moment. For many of these students it is a culmination of one type of journey before they go their separate ways onto the challenges of adulthood. It allows them to play with such an extra passion of understanding a moment for what it really is. That’s why for all but one team, the loss in the tournament is so devastating, and each win keeping the dream alive is so thrilling.

Yes, for those who jut place a bet down during this chaotic time of year on a bracket with as educated a guess as it is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, more yelling and cursing is to come with each team crossed off from our brackets. But if we take a moment to look at the stars of the show – the student athletes on the court, we would be surprised to know that their efforts can be great sources of inspiration, along with financial gain from a winning wager.

There are those in college sports who argue that the student athlete should be paid while in school. Maybe for those few pursuing the dream of playing professional sports, it makes sense. Some argue that free scholarships and tuition assistance should be payment enough for their on the field performance. But however the issue of compensating the student athlete gets resolved, there is nothing like March Madness that literally embodies one of the great motivating phrases in all stages of life:

“Survive and advance.”

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