March 23, 2021
The first weekend of the NCAA Men’s and first round of the Women’s Basketball Tournaments are over. I always fill out a Men’s bracket and check the results hoping that my picks are better than my basketball knowledge. Even though I suffered some hits in the Round of 64 I was confident my selections would come through during the Round of 32. Now that we are down to the last 16 teams I must admit, my bracket is broken. Even in my broken state (read not going to win any prizes for best selections), I am not yet ready to concede that it has been busted. As it stands, I still have 9 teams in the Sweet 16, 3 teams picked for the final four, and the potential overall winner in my broken bracket. On a better side note, the Razorbacks are moving on to the next weekend.
While I fill out a bracket every year, I have not done it online until this year. I like to be able to write the names in the brackets and then mark them off when my predictions are wrong. Rather then following the updated pairings that come out prior to weekend two, I also hold onto my original bracket. What changed this year was the boy next door. He came to our house last week offering a chance to enter a bracket in the local football team’s ESPN group. Half of the $20 entry would be split by the top three brackets, and the remainder went to support the team. We supported the team the four years my nephew played for them. That meant buying pounds of sausage the first three years and T-shirts the last year. I got a better return on the sausage than my bracket.
The Razorback men were in a 25 year Sweet 16 drought prior to Sunday. After winning the national championship in 1994 and finishing runner-up in 1995, Arkansas snuck into the NCAA Tournament in 1996 and reached the Sweet 16. In the 25 years since the Razorbacks have been to the tournament eight times, winning the opening game four times but always failing to advance beyond the first weekend. During those 25 years 95 different teams reached the Sweet 16. Some of them have been Cinderellas, while others are college basketball blue-bloods. That is true again this year. While the other 14 teams may not be true blue-bloods, they have been there many times before. There are only two real Cinderellas, Oral Roberts and Layola. Sadly, the No. 4 seeded Razorback women dropped their opening round to the 13th seeded Wright State. This was a disappointment for the women and the first time since 2012 that a No. 4 lost to a No. 13.
Thoughts: When I was in High School the league had banned fundraising for individual sports teams. The thought was they were a public service, and fundraising would give certain teams an advantage over others. Things have changed dramatically since those days. Most of the larger schools in our state boast artificial turf, jumbotrons, and indoor practice facilities to go along with state-of-the-art weight rooms. Donors are a large part of how these facilities are funded, but coaches try to put responsibility on the players. I noticed there were 250 participants in our group bracket. That comes out to $2,500. That might cover the cost of the name changes on the back of new jerseys. The head football coach for our local district was paid $106,000 in 2019, while the base teacher’s salary was just over $24,000. They say you put money where your priorities are. Perhaps our priorities are broken. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.