Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness in a World Gone Mad

We all know that President Obama is a sports fan. He has even weighed in (albeit on the wrong side) on the call for a playoff in big-time college football. Nonetheless it was encouraging to read this morning that he had filled out his bracket for the NCAA tournament just like everybody else. Somebody will probably raise the specter of gambling in the White House, and I'm sure it's illegal. The NCAA, which opposes all forms of sports betting and yearly about this time puts out a finger-wagging paper about why joining the office pool will lead to points shaving in the national championship game, will likely whine about the president setting a bad example. But who cares? This is America, and if you can't blow a few bucks on the NCAA what good is it living here? The fact that our president is playing the same game we are, with the same ridiculous hopes and stupid picks, is somehow comforting.

But this particular year the NCAA is a much bigger deal. We are a nation of doomed souls--or at least that is how we have been acting lately. Between the stock market crash and the housing bubble, fears of an even Greater Depression and the impending terrorist attack that we all know is coming sooner or later, not to mention war in Iraq and Afghanistan and, much worse, Pakistan, we are a whipped nation, beaten down and cowering in a corner, hoping the rest of the world will just ignore us, go away, and leave us in peace, if only for a day.

So the tournament cannot come at a better time.

Across the nation offices are abuzz with predictions, most of them insane. Some bozo alumni from Chatenooga are actually betting that their boys will beat lofty UCONN. Fans of Moorehead State, the number 64 seed and winner of last night's play-in game, have filled them in as the national champion. Fans make the worst gamblers. But office pools are small time, and the real professionals are going to take Bingahmton and the points to beat Duke (at +22 you'd be crazy not to).

But blown tuition funds and a few shaven points are not the issue. The issue is the flow. Gambling is an industry that does well in a recession, as desperate people bet their last dime on the lotto in the vain hope it will change their fortunes. But it is also fun, and nothing is more fun in this regard than the NCAA tournament. If you've ever been in Vegas during the final four you know what I mean. The Federal Reserve has been trying desperately for two months to get money flowing again. Well I guarantee money will be flowing freely for the next three weeks. It will be changing hands in bars as people place side bets on Tyler Hansbrough missing his free throws, or what the over/under will be after the first quarter. It will flow to beer distributorships and to corner markets who sell potato chips and dip. It will flow into the malls where spouses (not necessarily wives in these enlightened times) will go to avoid the mayhem that is taking place in their living rooms. But mostly it will just flow because, for the next three weeks, everybody will be excited and, tonight at least, everybody in the country except the Alabama State fans will be happy, and will believe that this is their year. If the thing we need most right now is optimism and enthusiasm, the NCAA tournament is the prescription for what ails us.

For the record, I've got Louisville, Memphis, Duke and North Carolina in my final four, with NC cutting down the nets in Detroit. But what do I know?



Post a Comment

<< Home