Sunday, March 28, 2010

great coaches win

I mention in the Madness of March that there are several clever tee shirts worn by the avocational bettors with whom I engaged during the weekend. One shirt read, "Good Coaches Win, Great Coaches Cover." The reference is to the fact that winning, to a bettor, is relatively insignificant and what is paramount to the bettor is whether the team that wins can cover the spread.

While I have occasionally wondered if coaches are aware of the spread and make any decisions based on trying to beat the spread as well as the opponent, after watching hundreds of college games I can not remember more than one or two times when it crossed my mind that there was, indeed, a coach's awareness of the spread at the conclusion of the game. I do mention one of those occasions in the book, but even then I was certainly not sure, and more significantly, the times such thoughts have registered in my consciousness are infinitesimal.

Today Michigan State a two point favorite was at the foul line for two shots in a tied game with 1.8 seconds left. The player for State hit the first free throw. Then Tennessee called time out apparently to either ice the shooter or to plan an inbounds play. After that timeout, Michigan State called timeout for reasons I could not fathom. Then when I saw what transpired, I got it. The player resumed his position at the foul line and then deliberately missed the foul shot. The strategy was to decrease the 1.8 seconds by the time that would elapse when the ball was rebounded, and also to compel Tennessee to either score in 1.8 seconds with a rebounded ball going who knows where, or to call a timeout to attempt a shot. They did the latter, did not score, and MSU won by one point.

If the coach had any desire to cover the spread, there is no way he would have instructed his player to deliberately miss the shot. Missing the shot wins the game but loses the bet. Despite the notions of conspiracy theorists, I do not think coaches care a whole lot about beating the spreads.

butler did it

The title for this blog, or some variation, was likely the headline in many newspapers across the country today. Butler, an underdog from an unheralded conference, managed to beat Kansas State and will go to the final four which happens to be held this year in Butler's home town of Indianapolis. Their opponent will be determined today when Michigan State plays Tennessee.

West Virginia University, another underdog yesterday, will also be at the final four. They toughed it out to defeat 1 seeded Kentucky despite the play of Wall who seemed to be otherworldly out there driving through half of West Virginia's team on a number of occasions.

I picked both favorites yesterday so I am down 2 from my tournament record to date and sit at 32-25-1 against the spread for the tournament. Today I like MSU giving the two to Tennessee and Baylor getting within 5 of Duke. Not sure Baylor will prevail, but I think they get close.

Meanwhile the best team playing today is none of these four. It is the Connecticut Women's team who are absolutely pulvarizing Iowa State today. When last I looked they were up by close to 50 against a team that has already won two tournament games. Their subs are awesome. I can imagine the Cyclone women sitting in their locker room today figuring they just played against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

bettors and fans

People frequently ask me if betting enhances the joy of the game for a fan. My best answer is that for a true fan of a particular team, betting actually detracts from the joy of watching a game. Betting creates a different game which sometimes is at odds with the ostensible one.

An example of this occurred this past Thursday night when Kansas State defeated Xavier in double overtime.

Very near the end of regulation Kansas State was winning by three points and poised to advance to what is called the "elite eight." However the spread in the game was Kansas State giving four and a half. This means, of course, that a bettor for Kansas State would lose since their team was only ahead by three. Meanwhile a fan for Xavier would be sad since Xavier was about to lose by three points. However bettors for Xavier would be happy since they were about to win since the casinos were advancing Xavier four plus points.

A strange thing then occurred. While shooting a three point field goal, a player for Xavier was fouled with almost no time to play. This meant that-- losing by three--a Xavier player would be awarded three foul shots. If he made them, the game would be tied and go into overtime.

At this juncture a rabid Kansas State fan who also had bet on Kansas State must have had mixed feelings. If the Xavier player was to miss any one of the shots, the fan's beloved Kansas State would advance. However, the bet would be lost. If, however, the player made all three shots, the game would go into overtime and then Kansas State might have an opportunity to not only win, but win by 5 points covering the 4 1/2 point spread. (This, by the way, is precisely what happened. The final score was 101-96 and Kansas State bettors would win by half a point).

This situation is what I refer to when I write that betting can actually detract from the joy of watching a game and does not "make it interesting." The bettors who only care about the bet are actually watching and cheering for a distorted version of the game which is at odds with the ostensible object of the game.

I proved to be correct that all three Cinderella's would go down. UNI put up more of a fight than I thought, but they and Cornell and St. Mary's lost and did not cover. I went 5-3 on Thursday and Friday, bringing my tournament record so far to 32-23-1. Not bad against the spread, but the kind of encouragement which eventually would only make a pauper out of me if I thought that with this wisdom I could score big at the sports books in Las Vegas. Such illusions of continued success are what built every hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Not sure about today. I think Kentucky will cover the 3 1/2 against West Virginia, and KS will similarly cover the 4 against Baylor. My best suggestion is that you stay away from both of these bets, and enjoy watching the games from purely a fan's perspective.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Limited Wisdom

A friend of mine who has read, The Madness of March, left a phone message last week. His message was succinct, "The dogs, the dogs, the dogs, the dogs."

For readers of the blog who have also read the book, you may recall that this was the sage advice from a looped fan at the Bellagio one March Madness weekend. He, the sage, and a cohort opined that the best teams to bet were always the underdogs. That year, with one notable exception, the pundit was correct which, no doubt, was the reason he was willing to boom his philosophy to anyone in the vicinity of his barstool. My pal left the message because last weekend, three notable dogs, Northern Iowa, Cornell, and St. Mary's all prevailed beating respected foes Kansas, Wisconsin, and Villanova respectively.

Cinderella comes home tonight. I have been so wrong before. In the summer of 1980 I wandered around my house muttering, "Who in the world will vote for Ronald Reagan?" Such is my prescience. Nevertheless, I think Cinderella is done.

No team can keep shooting like Cornell is shooting. I would love to see the Big Red story continue against Kentucky, but despite the heat coach Calipari is receiving these days, the man has been successful everywhere he has gone. Kentucky has to be sick and tired of hearing how swell Cornell is and how smart they are and gee whiz isn't it great that an ivy league school has gone this far and... Kentucky will win this game by double figures. Give up the 8 1/2 and run.

St. Mary's lost to Gonzaga twice during the regular season. Their center had the game of his life on Sunday. Baylor will put the clamps on the big guy and then they have nothing left. Give up the 4 and watch Cinderella change duds in the blink of an eye.

Ali Faroukmanesh has become a household name (for those who can utter so many syllables in a single breath). Michigan State is very well coached. With or without the stud who went down last weekend, the University of Northern Iowa even with Lucas O'Rear and his sideburns, will go back to Cedar Falls. Michigan State saw how UNI could not inbound the ball against pressure, and you will see UNI look befuddled within the first half. Michigan State is laying only 1. Take out a loan and bet on the Spartans

My predictions for the rest of the games today and tomorrow: (from a man who thought Carter would win a second term. Perhaps I would be wise to "Ask Amy"--this a reference to President Carter's faux pas during the last presidential debate of that season).

West Virginia covers the 4 against overachieving Washington. Syracuse beats Butler by nine covering the 6, Duke ends Purdue's run, but does not cover the 8. Xavier beats Kansas State.

Except for Xavier, Cinderella goes home.

Final Note: Before you place any wagers, look back at the title for this entry.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whether You're Big or Grateful, You're in the Red.

The weekend is over. A welcome fact for even those who are serious fans. If you watched all of the games this weekend you would have to be spent. I saw very few games on Thursday and Friday and still, am a bit fatigued from just two days of watching games.

I spent a few hours at Champions in downtown Boston today. It almost had the feel of a Las Vegas sports book, though they were not nearly as quick (or capable) of making the changes when CBS switched away from a game that was lopsided. In Las Vegas because of the spread, few games are lopsided. Somebody somewhere has some bet that is alive until the buzzer is heard.

The crowd at Champions was a decidedly pro Cornell group, but when CBS switched away from Cornell because the Big Red were devouring the Grateful Red, there was no whoop and cry from the diners. In Las Vegas there would have been a din. Still lots of sets in this newly redone Champions right in the heart of the city. You know you are right in the heart of the city when it costs ten dollars to park your car for an hour and that is BECAUSE you have validated parking since you spent close to 30 dollars on a sandwich and a glass of beer. What a deal. Now, a few hours later, I am ready to eat.

Today I went 4-4, bringing my four day total of betting against the spread on the 48 games to 27-20-1. As I have written before, betting against the spread is like betting on the flip of a coin. Today, for example, at the buzzer I would have won one of my mock bets when Michigan State beat Maryland on a last second shot, but would have lost another at the very end when Purdue scored at the end of overtime to beat Texas A & M.

Earlier today I posted a blog making the point that the people who go to Las Vegas are there for a vacation, not a windfall. I mentioned that if I broke even today--which is what happened--and had bet 10 dollars a game for the entire weekend, I would be up about 70 dollars, not nearly enough to offset the cost of flight, lodging, and food. Even if I had bet 100 dollars a game--a foolishness that only would have occurred if I landed on my head after a spill before betting--my predictions would have yielded 700 dollars. Figuring the cost of a flight 300 dollars at least, lodging 300 dollars at least, and food say 100 dollars if all one did was eat subway sandwiches all weekend, I would still only be even. And that does not count the shellacking I'd have taken at Starbucks every morning.

The thing is--and I write this at the risk of sounding boastful--I really kind of know what I am doing. And I still only picked 27 right out of 48 games. I probably watched 100 basketball games this year. I know the teams, the coaches, I have a better sense than the average bear, still I only won 7 more than I lost. And this was a good year. Many years, despite knowing what I am doing I come out even.

Bottom line is this: whether you were cheering for the Grateful Red of Wisconsin or the Big Red of Cornell on Sunday, at day's end when you added up your shekels, you would have discovered that whether you were grateful or not, you were in the big red.

And you would likely have begun to plan for next year.

The sweet sixteen begins on Thursday.

Fear the Burn--Redux

As those who have followed this blog know, I attended the semi finals and finals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis two weeks back. For the finals I sat behind three knowledgeable and dedicated Northern Iowa fans. To my right and under the basket was the rabid student section. At one point I noticed a fellow wearing a tank top that read, Fear the Burn. I asked my Northern Iowa faithful neighbors what that referred to. I discovered that a substitute for UNI named Lucas O'Rear sported side burns and this was what the shirt referred to. Indeed I noticed that the tank topped student fan had comrades similarly adorned and the group had pencilled in side burns on their cheeks to reflect their allegiance to the sideburned player.

I was impressed with UNI when I saw the games because they seemed to have two teams. The starters, and then a crew that came off the bench that often played more effectively than the starters. They beat Wichita State in the finals of the MVC, but until the end the game was tight. It was great to see UNI revel at the end and dance the "I'm going to the dance" dance, but truth be told I thought they would get spanked in the first round.

So, yesterday--as evidence of my prescience--the University of Northern Iowa defeated the number 1 team, not only in the region, but in the entire tournament. This was their second win in three days in the Big Dance. They did not get spanked, but did the surprising spanking. Had it not been for a last few minute push by the erstwhile top seeded Kansas, the game would have been a double digit victory for UNI. Whatever IT is, UNI seems to have IT. Lucas O'Rear--fear the burn--is a good example of how this team--inexplicably--prevails. I watched him intently yesterday. The guy does not seem as if he could beat me, at 60, in a game of one on one. Yet he made a real difference yesterday. I note today looking at the box score that he had 5 rebounds. During the game on a number of occasions he kept balls alive by tapping them to teammates. He was a real pain in Kansas's O'rear setting picks all over the place for his teammates. For a guy who looks like he could not score twenty points a game if he was left in the gym alone for an hour, I think Kansas preferred it when O'Rear was not in the game.

I found myself rooting for UNI like my neighbors in St. Louis did during the MVC. I don't see how they can advance further, but I did not figure they could get to this point.

Readers of the Madness of March know that this is the time in Las Vegas when bettors are running out of gas. They have watched 40 basketball games to date, and are now on fumes as they prepare to watch the remaining 8.

I went 5-3 yesterday, running my three day total to 23-16-1. This means that unless I lose all 8 games today, I will come out ahead for the weekend, (assuming that I only made single bets on each contest which would not have happened). Coming out ahead would mean that minus four nights lodging, eating, and satisfying my thirst, I would "win"--assuming I break even today, about 70 dollars, rendering the weekend about a 600 dollar loss. The fans who flock to Las Vegas for March Madness are not going there to make money, but rather to enjoy the festival.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Yesterday was a much better day. And, as is often the case in life and in sports, the prior day that had appeared to be so dark, was not as bad as it first appeared.

I'd thought my Thursday wisdom had yielded a 6-9-1 mark. It was actually 7-8-1 with Tennessee providing the push. Yesterday I was just the kind of bettor Las Vegas likes. I was a winner 11 times out of 16. My favorite victory was Cal state Santa Barbara and 17 1/2 in a game that ended with Ohio State winning 68-51

I make the point in the Madness of March that the casino wants you to win because it encourages you to bet, and if you bet long enough you will have to lose. Besides the money made on lodging, food, and beverages is enough to offset most potential winnings.

If I had gone to Las Vegas this year, I would now be 18-13-1. So assuming I bet 10 dollars a game I would be up close to fifty dollars. Fifty dollars is about 1/3 the daily room rates. And besides, today is another day. Spurred by the atypical successes of yesterday, who knows how many bills I would place to support an illusion of wisdom.

Yesterday I watched the last games of the night at a sports bar of sorts in Waltham. Coincidentally next to me was a fellow rooting for Syracuse who hailed from Fredonia New York, the small town where I first began teaching. It was more fun talking with him about Western New York than watching the games.

A nice article about the book appeared in my campus internal newsletter yesterday. Also a better than decent review appeared recently in the Journal of Popular Culture. The URL for the newsletter article appears below.

A true fan will note that the Division 3 basketball finals will be played at 1 oclock today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Broken Hearted

It did not take long for my day to start off poorly and that is not just because Notre Dame did not show up and Villanova decided to wake up with only a few minutes left to go. As I mentioned in the Madness of March, betting on college games against the spread is like betting on the flip of a coin. It would be wise not to send me out at the beginning of a football game to call the toss.

I wrote to my brother this morning and gave him my picks. Neither of us are in Las Vegas this year. This is my first March Madness away from the fun wildness of the strip since 2003. Not much approaching fun wildness here in Boston. Today I attended four meetings, received some swell e-mails, and watched the tail end of a few basketball games on my computer. At least at one of the meetings they served lunch.

Where is my wisdom accrued from many years of going to las vegas? Where is the intelligence gleaned from watching maybe 100 basketball games this year?

I told my brother that the lock of all locks was Notre Dame giving the points against Old Dominion. Northeastern beat Old Dominion this year. Go figure--Old Dominion wins. I told my brother that Villanova would make up the 18 1/2 points of lumber it was laying against Robert Morris. Go figure--Villanova had to go into overtime to win the game--not by 18 1/2. What are the chances that Richmond would not be able to beat St. Mary's after St. Mary's exhausted itself in the win against Gonzaga. St. Mary's won.

I figure that any minute someone from Las Vegas will send me a private plane and beg me to come on out for the remaining three and a half days of this first weekend. Unfortunately for the state of Nevada's revenue stream, I have to teach tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

stark omission

It begins in an hour.

The NIT begins with my Northeastern Huskies playing the Connecticut Huskies. The game, in the vernacular, is a lock. No pun intended, but despite my allegiance, you don't want to bet the dog in this one. Seven and a half is not a lot of lumber to lay.

Perhaps I am a bit rusty with the parlance of the sports book. I assure you however, that the thousands who are preparing to travel to Las Vegas, or are already there, can not wait to spew the bettors' rhetoric.

One team that will not be participating in the Big Dance is Mississippi State. A disclaimer here: I have been to Starkville and have a colleague who teaches at Mississippi State. Yet even if I had never been to the school and knew not a soul in the state, I would be startled at the injustice of Mississippi State not being invited to dance.

Let's see now. With one tenth of a second left in the game, Mississippi State was ahead of Kentucky, the number 2 team in the nation. In what can only be described as a fluke Kentucky tied the game with one tenth of a second left. Kentucky went on to win by a single point in overtime. If Mississippi State wins that game they win the Southeast Conference one of the strongest conferences in the country, one of the Big 6 power conferences. But Mississippi State loses, still has 23 wins for the season, and they don't get invited. Florida on the other hand, lost to Mississippi State in the first round of the tournament, has 21 wins and they DO get to go. I need someone to explain this logic to me. Not only does Florida go, but Minnesota? Minnesota lost by 20 points to Ohio State in the finals of the Big Ten conference. Mississippi State lost by one point to a much stronger than Ohio State Kentucky, and they don't go.

In Starkville their heads are spinning.

No matter. Time to fill out your brackets.

In 38 minutes the NIT begins

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Theory Y, The Big East, and Williams

My regular job involves teaching and writing about communication in organizations. A researcher named Douglas McGregor described two perspectives regarding management that are related to communicating in organizations. He called these contrasting perspectives, theory X and theory Y.

Theory X holds that people are basically lazy, do not naturally seek out responsibility, and are motivated to perform only by monetary rewards. If a manager subscribes to theory X she or he only needs to communicate to employees what to do, how to do it, and what are the financial ramifications of doing it or not doing it.

Theory Y believes that people are not inherently lazy, will under the right conditions see work to be as much fun as play, and therefore have a natural desire to seek out responsibility. Given the choice of doing nothing or doing something, theory X suggests that people would delight in doing nothing. Theory Y believes that people would be frustrated by doing nothing.

If managers subscribe to theory Y, then communicating what to do, and how to do it, is not enough. Employees need to know if they have done well or done poorly. Genuine communications of recognition, if you believe in theory Y can be as motivating as a monetary reward.

Support for Theory Y comes in several forms. One such form is that studies of people who quit jobs indicate that the primary reason for quitting a job is not salary, but lack of recognition, respect, and feeling of worth at work. Freud suggested that the two driving forces of humans are work and sex. Sex, I think, is a given. But if you believe people are driven to do something meaningful with their time, you are a subscriber of Theory Y.

So, what does this have to do with college basketball?

Can anyone who watched any of the championship games yesterday, ever believe in Theory X? These players were jumping out of their skins yesterday for a chance to win the games. They cried when they lost and did inane victory dances when they won. Ninety percent of the players who played yesterday will never play professionally. They will not play for money. They are playing for something else. And that is, to excel, to be recognized in their own heads and in the heads of the people who support them. The need for recognition can have its own dangers, but believing that people only perform for monetary rewards is shortsighted.

Some might contend that the teams are playing for an external reward--a shot at the NCAA tournament. Yes, perhaps, but the minor teams know, they know, they know that they will be obliterated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Ohio University defeated Akron yesterday in overtime for the MAC title. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluffs won its tournament. Oakland University won its. If any of these teams get within 15 points of its first round opponent I will be stunned. Yet, they were tearing with joy when they won. They were tearing because they will have the recognition of being to the big dance.

Georgetown and West Virginia played for the Big East championship yesterday. Regardless of the outcome, both teams were nearly guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament. Yet that game was one of the most intensely played basketball games I have ever seen. They were playing for theory Y reasons and were they ever playing.

Anyone who watched basketball yesterday knows that the Big East is the jewel of the conferences. I think that at least three of the Big East teams will be in the sweet sixteen, and depending on the seedings, three may be in the final four. Nevertheless in a championship game which essentially was for bragging rights--theory Y motivators--the two teams played ferociously.

And then there is Williams College. Division 3. They beat Brandeis yesterday to get to the final four of Division 3. Nobody, but nobody, but nobody on Williams or Brandeis will play professionally. Yet the intensity of the game to get to a final four was undoubtedly high. I live adjacent to Brandeis University and the gray day surrounding my neighborhood today is likely matched by the gray mood of Brandeis followers who lost nothing yesterday except the theory Y benefits of feeling like a winner.

One sidebar about Williams College. When I played on the freshman team at Albany we had an away game at Williams. The freshman team typically played a preliminary contest and the home team varsity would play the main event. At that time there was only division 1 and division 2, and our freshman contest was a division 2 game. For some reason, when we played away, our varsity would not travel with us. The opponent's varsity would play another opponent. This day in 1968 the Williams varsity was playing division 1, Harvard in the main event.

Now Harvard plays in the Ivy league which is a relatively weak division 1 conference. It is true that a few years earlier in 1965 Princeton led by Bill Bradley (the Bill Bradley who later would become a United States Senator) went to the final four, but Harvard was not Princeton. They were a weak division 1 team.

When our game ended we headed for the visitor's locker room. Waiting to exit from the locker room to play the main event was the Harvard team. They were big, much bigger than we were. I remember thinking that if we had to play them we would lose by 40. It is difficult for those of us who play games in the backyard, and perhaps were decent high school athletes, to respect just how big and strong and good college basketball players are.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

halftime at the America East

The America East championship game is underway and Vermont has an 11 point lead at halftime. This game is one of several being played today that will determine which teams will be invited to dance starting Thursday. Unlike the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA, and Big East tournaments--all in their final stages this weekend-- the America East and other leagues' championships are winner take all.

The loser of the game today between Vermont and Boston University will not go anywhere. Neither team is likely to receive an NIT birth. The NIT is a second tier tournament which promises to award an invitation to the regular season champions of every conference. However, neither BU or Vermont won the conference. That designation belongs to Stony Brook a crew that is no doubt stewing today because they would have liked to have earned the right to play in this game, but were upset last week in the championship semifinals.

The America East championship is being played in Vermont and so, not only does BU have eleven points at halftime to make up, but they have to do it with a screaming crowd in a small gym that is making it difficult for the BU players to think let alone dribble.

There are some demons in this gym for Vermont however. Three years ago Vermont played my alma mater, Albany, in this very space for the right to go to the NCAA and despite the home court advantage lost the game in the last seconds. In 2006 Vermont also lost a championship game to Albany--but that year the game was played in Albany. If Vermont prevails today this will be the first trip to the NCAA for the coach, Mike Lonergan, who replaced legendary Vermont mentor Tom Brennan in 2006. Snippets from the pregame speech by Lonergan suggest he is calm, but he may jump as high as his athletes if the buzzer sounds and Vermont gets to dance.

ESPN2 is televising this game, and after it is televising the MEAC championship, and after that the Southland final, and after that the MAC final, and after that the Big West final, and after that the WAC final. Six games in a row for basketball junkies, each game will end with one team dancing like they won the lottery while another squad mopes. It's raining in Boston today. I won't be parked in front of the set for 14 hours, but I'll bet (and ESPN2 bets) that many will be.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time to Pack a Bag

If you do not like college basketball, and you live with someone who does--it is time to pack a bag and get out of town for a few days--or get your spouse the weekend rate at the Marriott.

I noticed in today's newspaper that on my local cable outlet that there are no fewer than 20 basketball games that will be available on television. Today is a Thursday, not a Saturday. I do not have direct tv or any sort of satellite dish. I am not referring to any package that includes special sports channels. There are 20 basketball games on regular cable stations today should people in the Boston area wish to immerse themselves in the action. Every one of these games will be interrupted periodically because each station has sold advertising time for the programs/games. This means that the production managers for the networks or stations believe that televising these games will yield an audience sufficient to obtain a spike in advertising revenue.

I'm not surprised. Yesterday I had the good fortune to speak to an alumni group at my university about The Madness of March. I hope it was as much fun for the audience to listen to my remarks as it was for me to give them. There were several interesting questions after the talk. A man asked me who the quirkiest character I ever met was while attending the games. I should have a stock answer for this question as it has been asked on a number of occasions. The fact is that there are so many fans who could legitimately get that award, I am hard pressed to select the most idiosyncratic. A woman asked how people decide where to go to watch the games. Another gentleman asked if I had encountered any gamblers who identified themselves as professional gamblers. A woman wanted to know if I have ever won. (An easy answer to that). There were several other questions as well which made the evening even more fun. It was a joy to hear someone say that he had already read the book, had been to Las Vegas during march madness on two occasions, and that I had nailed the atmosphere and characters in the Madness of March. It was very good to hear that.

I received a note early this week from a kind reader who told me that he too enjoyed the book. He also wrote that there is a website set up for those who travel to Las Vegas for March Madness. If you visit it, you will see that many who intend to go, are literally counting off the hours to when they will pack their bag for the annual pilgrimmage. The url for the site is:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fear the Burn

I returned Sunday night from having attended the Missouri Valley Conference semi finals and championship games in St. Louis. This championship tournament is called Arch Madness and this year's was the 20th anniversary. It was wild and fun and depicted the crazy, frenzied atmosphere of March Madness.

On the Metro ride in on Saturday I encountered three red shirted fans of Illinois State who were seated across the aisle on the train. Illinois State was to play Wichita State in the second game of Saturday's double header. The first game would be the University of Northern Iowa against Bradley.

The three Illinois State Redbirds (the team's nickname) were remarkably knowledgeable and serious. One of the three of them was checking out his blackberry to obtain the scores of other championship games. I found out that Illinois State had advanced after defeating Indiana State the night before in a thrilling game. The Wichita State "Shockers" had advanced by defeating Missouri State. By the time we arrived at the Scottrade Center I had become knowledgeable thanks to these three young men.

The Arch Madness signage looms in front of me as I exit the train. The scalpers are waving the extra tickets to try to peddle those tossed away by the fans of losing teams in the quarter finals. I get to the ticket window and meet up with a father and daughter who are Bradley supporters. Seems as if there is a deal, four tickets, four cokes, and two popcorns for 50 bucks. Not bad. My buddy Craig will be joining me for the second game so I become partners with the father and daughter. The daughter sees my Boston Red Sox hat and wonders aloud what she is doing speaking to a guy who roots for the Red Sox. Nevertheless we become partners in coke, popcorn, and basketball. I leave a ticket at will call for Craig, and march to the moon in the Scottrade center where our 4 tickets for 50 dollar seats are located. The seats are actually not bad, and I sit through the first game next to the Bradley supporters. All throughout the arena there are sections of red, yellow, and indigo. Two red sections represent Illinois State and Bradley. The yellow represents the Shockers of Wichita State and indigo Northern Iowa.

The daughter, an erstwhile collegiate swimmer who'd attended Bradley, is disappointed in her alma mater's showing. They don't seem to have a clue against Northern Iowa. The father is similarly disappointed. We drink our cokes, consume the popcorn, and I commiserate with my new found friends. Half way into the second half, she and her dad have had it and leave the arena.

In the second game a bunch of rooters for Illinois State are behind me. This must be an unlucky section as Illinois State will not defeat Wichita. The shockers really brought a following. The mascot, who I guess is a shocker--but who knows what a Shocker is-- is dancing around maniacally as Illinois State falls behind. The Illinois State rooters behind me are as glum as the Wichita State people are frenzied.

In the lobby after the game, the big red losers of Bradley and the big red losers of Illinois State look like one big gloomy red convention each person seeming to be muttering, "What the hell did I drive to St. Louis for, anyway."

When I arrive at the stadium on Sunday for the finals, it is a sea of yellow and indigo. I approach a cluster of yellow clad Shockers and ask if anyone has an extra ticket. I am sold one under a single condition. I can not root against the shockers.

These seats are as close as yesterday's were distant. I am five rows from the court. Directly behind me are Illinois State rooters who decided to stick around and watch the finals. Behind me to my right is a professor from Oklahoma who comes to the Missouri Valley tournament annually simply because he loves the energy. In front of me are three very serious fans from the University of Northern Iowa. The section to my right behind the basket is filled with student crazies. These UNI purple clad folks seem to be standing for the whole game. One guy is wearing a tank top, with "sixth man" scrawled on his arms. He has the words, "Fear the Burn" written on the shirt. I ask my neighbors from Iowa why he has the shirt. It seems as if one of the UNI players has sideburns. I look more carefully at the fan and see that he has used eyebrow pencil to draw side burns on his face. And I see three other fanatics similarly attired with "Fear the Burn" shirts and penciled in markings along their cheeks.

The Shockers are ahead at half time, but succumb to UNI in the second half. Just before the game concludes, three diehards from Drake--a team that was eliminated TWO NIGHTS AGO---stand up and chant, "Let's Go Drake, Let's Go Drake. Let's Go Drake" Then they leave despondently. UNI fans in the stands hold up a sign that derides the opponent. It reads, "Wichita is NOT a State!!"

UNI wins the tournament and rushes the court as time expires. The music plays, "We are the champions." The UNI players are jumping around like they have ants in their pants. At one point the camera sees them exulting and then the players really do the dance for the cameras, jumping up and down like they are maniacs. There is an award ceremony and the players now wearing caps and tee shirts get up on a stage. The fans are screaming hosannahs. It is purple wide in the Scottrade center.

I get up to leave, but just as I exit, I hear the theme song from One Shining Moment. One Shining Moment is the song played at the end of the NCAA tournament. Apparently ARCH Madness has its own version. So to the tune of One Shining Moment the players and their supporters swoon. M/Arch madness.

Friday, March 5, 2010

arch madness

If you like college basketball, the next month will be fun.

This weekend the CAA, Ohio Valley, Big South, MAAC, Atlantic Sun, West Coast and Southern Conferences will all be playing tournaments to determine which team from the conference is invited to the NCAA tournament known as March Madness. The Missouri Valley Conference plays this weekend as well and they call their preliminary tournament ARCH Madness because the scene is St. Louis.

When the last buzzer is heard in each of these tournaments the jubilation from the winners is fun to watch. The student body runs out on the court, the players jump gleefully because they get to go to the big dance. Sure, the conference winners will probably lose by 40 in the first game of the big NCAA tournament to one of the real power teams, but their excitement after winning the conference tournament is undiminished regardless.

If you've not ever watched one of these final games and you are any semblance of a sport fan, get the popcorn and watch basketball over the next few days. You'll feel excited for the winners and sad for the losers and enjoy the drama that is sports.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


One of the benefits of writing a book like the Madness of March is that I get to meet some people who I have often admired from afar, but who I'd never have had an opportunity to talk with, had it not been for the book. A few years back I met Bill Rafferty, for example, the long time ESPN announcer who had formerly been the Seton Hall coach. We were in the media room prior the MAAC tournament championship and it was a kick to talk with him as I might converse with any sport fan.

Readers of the book might remember a short section about half way through that describes a well oiled "pundit's" declaration that it was always wise to bet the dogs. On page 111, there is a reference to the game in 2005 when the University of Vermont stunned Syracuse University. The University of Vermont then was coached by Tom Brennan who always struck me as a down to earth good guy who never took himself too seriously. He is self-effacing but three years in a row, the University of Vermont won the AmericaEast and received the automatic bid to go to the tournament. After beating Syracuse in 2005, Vermont did not embarrass itself in the second round game and with a ball bouncing this way instead of that, might have advanced to the sweet 16. After retiring, the coach went on to become an effective ESPN commentator and I always found his comments on target and not self congratulatory. Some announcers wait for the ball to go through the hoop before they opine that a shot was wise. I like the guys who are not spending all game stroking themselves for their wisdom.

A couple of weeks back I sent Coach Brennan a copy of the book. I thought he might enjoy the reference to his Vermont team's success. He wrote back and told me that he liked the book and thanked me for sending it to him. I got a charge out of receiving the note. Then on Monday there was a phone message for me in the office telling me that he would be in town and maybe we could get together. Unfortunately, I would not be able to meet him when he came to Boston, but I returned the call.

We got to talking about basketball and it was a joy to be on the horn with him. He knows more about basketball than half the coaches still on the job, but he kept poo poohing his successes. After we reminisced some about prior years' games, he asked me if I would be available to be on his radio show and I was, of course, delighted. So, the next morning I was on the air with the coach talking about the Madness of March. I have done these interviews in the past, but Coach Brennan was one of the few who had actually read the book through. On the program, he read a couple of sections, asked me to comment on them, and laughed appreciatively when we discussed some of the quirky folks one meets in Las Vegas

Anyone who has ever written a book knows that there are days when you want to slam the computer into the wall, but a residual of the toil with this book at least is to meet class acts like Tom Brennan.