Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why I Hate March Madness

With another incarnation of college basketball’s championship tournament upon us, I am once again reminded of the season nearly everything went right for me, until it all went wrong. 
It was a different era for college basketball. Ruled by Duke, the reigning two time champions, and its prodigies Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, the face of the league was shifted by a brash group from Michigan, dubbed “The Fab Five.” ESPN has created a film documenting how Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson came together for two magical seasons to transform the direction of college basketball forever.

In 1993, I was a sophomore in high school and decided to, once again, participate in a March Madness bracket pool. It was the last season I would ever do so.

To this day, I remember filling out the empty sheet. It was early morning, before classes, and I was seated on a leather couch, beside a friend that was a big Michigan fan. One by one, I selected teams and, guided by the hand of fate, I magically picked winner after winner. Ultimately, that morning I predicted seven of the Elite Eight, all of the Final Four, and both finalists correctly. Stuck with indecision, I mulled over the matchup for awhile and then leaned over to my friend and joked “I know I’ll regret this,” as I fatefully wrote “Michigan” into the final space.

Before the championship game I was so far ahead in points that my win was a virtual certainty. As the tournament played out, my friends cursed my luck and lamented their own. I was in line to see a $150 profit, still a nice win today, especially considering the $5 investment, but in those days, this was a mountain of cash.
On April 5th, 1993, Michigan met North Carolina in New Orleans for one of the most memorable NCAA Championship games ever. The Fab Five had once again battled in exciting fashion, finding themselves down by two points in the waning seconds. I crawled closer and closer to the television as Chris Webber eluded a double dribble call and raced up the court. Pressed into the corner by a vicious double team, Webber made one of the most infamous gaffes in the history of sports; he called a timeout when his team had none remaining. Awarded a technical foul, North Carolina cruised to victory.

The Michigan loss was a double tragedy. First, because of the heavy weight the championship held in scoring the pool, my enormous lead instantly evaporated and I finished short of the paying spots. The second curse came to light almost ten years later. It was discovered that Webber had received improper benefits from booster Ed Martin. Michigan vacated both of Webber’s Final Four appearances and The Fab Five were barred from any association with the university for many years. Their meteoric assent, like my own fortune that year, had washed away under the current of history.

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