Look, I love the NCAA Tournament. As a kid, I used to spend Selection Sunday drawing brackets on graph paper, writing in the team names and seeds by hand, and having my friend — whose dad was a lawyer — start running off photocopies for our high school pool within an hour of the bracket reveal.
I’ve skipped school to watch games on the first Thursday. I’ve skipped work. I’ve run dancing down hallways in joy. I’ve fallen prone on Washington Post carpets in agony. I’ve got a huge folder of past brackets — complete with yellow highlighter happy lines and red pen sad lines — in my file cabinet.
But I see everyone online this Thursday morning talking about how this is the best day of the U.S. sporting calendar, and golly, I just don’t agree. Among other days that immediately come to mind are September NFL Sundays. Like, any of them. Here’s why I don’t buy the arguments in favor of this week.
* Anyone can win!
Nah, not really. No. 1 seeds have won 19 of the past 34 NCAA tournaments. They’ve won 10 of the past 14 tournaments. And in this supposed era of college basketball parity, they’ve won five of the past six tournaments. Sure, George Mason and VCU were fun, but it’s been 24 years since anyone outside a 4 seed won the title. The last 14 tournaments have been won by either a 1, 2 or 3 seed. The vast majority of these teams have no real shot. But tell me which NFL teams have no shot on opening week next fall. I dare you.
* There are so many fantastic finishes!
Sure, there are some. But people just choose to forget the snoozers. Last year’s first round included 15 games decided by at least 13 points — that’s nearly half of the 32 first-round games. The first round, remember, is supposedly what makes this Thursday and Friday the peak of sporting excellence, and half the games a year ago were blowouts. A grand total of seven first-round games were decided by four or fewer points.
On the other hand, in the first two weeks of this past NFL season — which, combined, had the same number of games as the NCAA’s first round — there were eight games decided by four or fewer points. In the next two weeks, there were 11. Sure, NFL games are lower-scoring, but the point is that a random NFL Sunday is likely to produce as many or more heart-stopping finishes as either of these first two NCAA days.
* There are so many games at once!
I mean, there are four games at once. That doesn’t compare to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Heck, that doesn’t compare to baseball’s Opening Day.
* It’s an American sporting holiday!
Sure, many 20- and 30-something guys — and, I’m guessing, a smaller number of women, and older men — take off some portion of work to watch basketball. And sure, that’s fun. But I’ve been in plenty of bars during these first two days; the energy level doesn’t come close to an NFL Sunday. Not close. Life proceeds as normal, for all but a tiny segment of fanatics (including me). But go to a local bar during the Super Bowl, or a Redskins playoff game. Heck, go to a local supermarket. That’s what it looks like when life stands still to celebrate a sporting holiday.
I adore brackets. But I’d rather pour boiling pickle juice into my eyes for two straight hours than listen to you say a single word about an upset you nearly picked, or an 11 seed that ruined your bracket. Honestly, I’d rather hear about your unbelievable painful fantasy football loss — or, heck, your systemic digestive failures — than about your bracket.
* The first-round sites are a glorious and colorful melting pot of eight fan bases
This is true, and it’s marginally cool. But I’ve covered many, many NCAA tournament sites. They’re largely sterile, especially during the day sessions. They’re much less fun than they might appear on television. There are many big-time boosters, and many corporate types, and scores of media members, and tiny segmented groups of hard-core fans, often situated far above the court. To compare that to the crowd at an NFL game — any NFL game — is like comparing Genny Cream Ale to Green Flash Palate Wrecker. One has flavor; the other exists.
I don’t know why I’m writing this, to be honest. I’m excited about this week. It beats a week without live sports during the afternoon. It just doesn’t beat the NFL, because nothing does.