By Mick Holien
My love for sports is often fueled by how I see athletics as a kaliedoscope of life.
And nothing serves as more of an annual illustration than the NCAA Championships.
And while I disagree with the 2011 broadening of the field by four teams who kick off the event two days earlier than the remainder of the field, governing body officials have designed tournament that seemingly employs about every element.
The original event, which in 1951 featured just 16 teams actually often, took a back seat to the NIT where the national championship was determined at Madison Square Garden.
In ’53 the tournament grew by a couple of teams and even in 1975 the field consisted of just 32 teams.
But a decade later with the tournament’s growth doubling to a 64-team field and major conferences allowed two teams each popularity of “March Madness” burgeoned and aside with some seeding manipulation and the use of regional sites to wet the whistle of the viewing and watching public the event has grown to be one of the world’s premier sporting events.
But for me it is not the format that is so intriguing and equally enjoyable.
It is the classic pairing of David vs. Goliath where now with the incredible upset of No. 1 seed Virginia by the No.16 seed UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) has come full circle.
Never before had a 16 defeated a 1 and not just a 1 seed but the top No 1 team in the tournament.
And so we not only hopefully know the location of the school but we also were advised that their retriever mascot is not a Labrador but rather a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Maryland’s state dog – so who knew that a huge statue on campus of True Grit marks the animal’s place in history.
Any uncertainty of the game’s outcome quickly diminished as the Retrievers dominated dropping seemingly impossible shots and walking away by 20 points.
But while this year’s tournament has enjoyed its usual assortment of upsets it is the manner in which they take place that consistently increases our enjoyment.
The range of today’s shooters brings success from everywhere on the court and 2.5 seconds when the ball is inbounded is a lifetime for a player either to drive the 94 feet to the hoop or even get the ball to a couple of other players on the 50-foot wide surface.
While I can talk about a variety of in-game situations that have either pushed games into extra periods or decided a buzzer-beater outcome like Saturday night when Michigan freshman Jordan Poole sank a prayer trey for a one-point Wolverine victory over Houston.
But while there were several my favorite moment of the initial weekend comes in loss.
Former Washington State coach Tony Bennett grew up in a basketball family as his Dad Dick, who labored for years at Wisconsin-Green Bay, building them into a competitive program before getting the same opportunity at Wisconsin, then WSU eventually turning the reins over to his son.
One of my favorite moments was sitting near Dick Bennett and Blaine Taylor during a layover in Hawaii after a tournament and just listening – I don’t think I said a word for two hours.
Anyway that qualifies a bit what his son Tony said to the media 10 minutes after the first-round loss: If you are going to get into the arena, he said, you have to be prepared for disappointing, even devastating, situations like becoming the first No 1 to lose to a 16.
Those who have never been in the arena may not understand but that’s just how it is.
Remember it’s not what happens but how one reacts to what happens.