From March Madness to April Ennui

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This weekend, Indianapolis will once again be “that city where Hoosiers was filmed.”

The NCAA Men’s Division I College Championship, better known as “The Final Four”, or “why did I bet my children’s college fund on UNC”, will deflect your attention away from more pressing issues. Kentucky fans will be so stoked at the prospect of going undefeated, they may just have to celebrate Easter with the Greek Orthodox church a week later.

As much as I’m rooting for both Wisconsin and Michigan State to make it to the championship; the smart money lies on the teams you hate. I won my March Madness pool in 2010 due to my sheer hatred of Duke, and can only assume they will lose in an unentertaining slog against Kentucky. I really, really wanted Villanova to be the final ineffective obstacle in UK’s way, but had that happened half of this article would be on why a good deal of Philadelphians hate their best local team.

Even if Duke and Kentucky were not part of this year’s Final Four, Lucas Oil Stadium would still be the epicenter in the latest battle of the Culture War, as the nation hangs its head in shame over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Kentucky Wildcats and the state of Indiana are alike in many ways, in that what they are doing is inevitable to most, reprehensible to even more, and very likely to be overturned to all. You just cannot sustain anti-gay discrimination in the mid-2010’s, much like John Calipari can hardly sustain a Final Four appearance without it being vacated.

And while the Religious Freedom Restoration act is indeed being amended to exclude anti-LGBT discrimination, there are still people who are going to profit from hate. Memories Pizza is dying a white hot death, getting enough attention for publicly supporting their right to hate on gays that equally ignorant people have donated over $400,000 on their behalf.

It’s hard not to make the scorching hot take that Calipari does the same thing through building near-unbeatable teams. Coach Cal took the very long con in recruiting Karl-Anthony Towns by coaching the Dominican national basketball team. And Calipari has his cake and eats it too, exploiting the NBA’s one-and-done rule by turning Kentucky into an ad hoc All-Rookie team, getting the most out of his talent during the year they have to spend in college and only pretending to give a damn about their education. These kids have millions of dollars in potential earnings at risk by being forced into unpaid labor, while Coach Cal will make almost six million dollars this season alone. The paying of college athletes and the abolition of the minimum experience rules in the pros is about as pro-labor and pro-free market respectively as sports fans get.

And yet ultimately I almost want Kentucky to win it all. I’m kinda rooting for the perfect season, not achieved since Bobby Knight led the Indiana Hoosiers to a 32-0 record in 1976. We are at the point where winning 38 games just isn’t enough for a team if they don’t win the NCAA Championship. Calipari probably wants this 38-plus win team of his to stick, unlike his 2007-08 Memphis squad who had all their wins vacated due to Derrick Rose’s fudged SAT scores. Most of all, I’m probably going to hate how the Final Four ends no matter what because it is ultimately still a college sports event. You can well up all you want as One Shining Moment plays, but you can probably find something to hate about any team. Nominal Cinderella Wichita State plays in an arena named for a Koch brother, while Villanova’s arena was originally named after John E. du Pont, the Foxcatcher guy. For every Butler run in 2010, where they were one buzzer beater away from glory, you get Butler’s 2011 appearance, where they lost to UConn in the most suffocating manner possible. I’ll be waiting for the one time when a plucky underdog does indeed defeat the team everybody loves to hate, but I won’t hold my breath.

Tom Keiser lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, but his heart lies inside of Philadelphia.

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