It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Cinderella's getting dressed for the bell. She's doing her hair and making sure the glass slipper fits just right. It's the time of year when small time makes it big and when sports are at their best. That's right Conference Tournament time.I love all sports: football, baseball, hockey, horse racing, boxing, I even follow European soccer (Go Chelsea). But this time of year is something special. There's not much that I love more than conference tournament time and the subsequent big dance. But let's be clear, I'm not talking about the Big East or ACC tournament - which by the way has pretty much the worst court design ever. That sea-foam green and purple deal? Rough. Seriously, I haven't seen a worse color combination since the Jets thought it was a good idea to roll with the old school Titans jersey. But I digress; I'm talking about the little guy, conferences like the MAC, MAAC, MEAC, Horizon, Sun Belt, Ivy ect.
Why do I love these conferences so much? Because it's sports in its purest form. 99% of these kids haven’t even thought about the NBA or endorsement deals. Unlike their power-conference counterparts – many of who get an education while they play ball – small conference athletes are playing ball while they get an education. It's a love of the game thing for them. They’re not hyped up stars, biding their time until they get paid. And unlike the superstars-in-waiting, small time kids play most of their career in complete anonymity.
However, this time of year provides a special opportunity – an opportunity to make some magic, make a run and get to play with the country watching. There's something special about watching kids I don't know, and admittedly won't remember, hit the pinnacle of their sporting career. Do I remember the name of a single player on the George Mason team that made that historic run in 2006? Nope. But you know what I do remember? The way the country seemed to rally around George Mason and their three-week lightening in a bottle run. I remember that when George Mason finally lost everyone in attendance stood and applauded, celebrating a team that made all of us take notice and be party to something special. Do I remember the name of anyone on that Vermont Catamount team that upset three seeded Syracuse in the first round (and DESTROYED my bracket)? Not a chance. You know what I do remember? Tom Brennan, their coach, glowing, almost crying in his press conference after beating Syracuse. I remember him saying, "You live in a very special place when your realities outweigh your dreams."
Isn't that what sports is all about? Don't we as fans all yearn for that kind of emotion from our athletes? Say what you want, that sort of love for the game is rare - but not this week. This week thousands of college kids will storm the court. Dozens will cut down nets. In the games that I'm watching there won't be a lottery pick in the bunch. What there will be are kids that love basketball and have just experienced their wildest dreams come true...until they pull off this years' upset that ruins thousands of brackets that is.
So haters be damned! Automatic bids are what make this tournament great. It's what makes it special. How many times does sports offer you a moment of pure, uncorrupted joy? So storm the court, cut down those nets and get ready for the big dance. I don't care if you're a 16 seed, no one knows who the next Cinderella will be.