It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the thing called March Madness, which technically stretches into April and is the only major sports event whose name tells you how to feel about it.
We don’t say “PGA Boring Championship” or “Super Bowl Triggering an Existentialist Malaise.” We trust you to arrive at these conclusions on your own.
Connecticut is especially excited this year because some men’s games are being played in the XL Center in Hartford, where this year’s slogan is “What Are the Odds of the Same Roof Caving in Twice?”
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Actually, the arena has slipped into substantial disrepair and degringolade (a complex French word meaning “decline characterized by an increased likelihood of patrons being bitten by monkeys or weasels”).
There has been a spirited three-year debate about what to do about the building, with “controlled implosion” never out of the running. Another plan involves eliminating all the upper-tier seats and making it a smaller arena, although that raises the prospect of renaming it the L, or perhaps even M, Center.
What was really needed for the Center was some common sense talk. Enter Geno Auriemma, who on Monday staged one of his periodic temper tantrums, hurling himself to the floor and pounding with his little reddening fists while he screamed, “We’re the No. 1 team in the country year in and year out. We have the best program in the country year in and year out, so we deserve to play in the best facilities year in and year out.”
Auriemma demanded that the monkey- and weasel-infested XL Center be upgraded. Proposals to do that range in price from $100 to $250 million, although if we’re seriously going to address the personal psychic abyss that Geno has been trying to fill for decades with championship trophies and accolades-delivered-by-firehose, I’m guessing it’s the higher number.
Auriemma also volunteered: “And if anybody says ‘How do we pay for it?’ That’s not my job. I don’t ask you how to coach my team, don’t ask me how you’re going to pay for it. That’s your job.”
This whole question of how to pay for things has taken on a sharper edge since UConn’s own reporting to the NCAA earlier this year disclosed the nation’s highest university-to-athletic-department subsidy ($42 million), with Auriemma’s program costing $3.1 million more to run than it takes in.
Auriemma’s right. Why should he have to tell kids living in dilapidated public housing that they’ll have to wait until he feels better about himself before their lives can improve?
Weird thing? I know Geno, and I basically like him. But every so often it seems like he has secretly entered some not-widely-publicized Most Whiny and Obnoxious Person in the World contest. If so, this week’s comments should vault him into the Elite Eight.
But wait. There is even more Connecticut wonderfulness because Yale has qualified for the Big Dance. The Bulldogs will play LSU, which sets up a confrontation involving two trains of alleged college admissions corruption running in opposite directions.
At Yale, there are allegations of a student pretending to be an athlete. At LSU, it’s more like an athlete pretending to be a student.
Indictment documents issued by the U.S. Justice Department accuse Yale’s former women’s soccer coach of accepting $400,000 to champion the candidacy of an applicant who, he claimed, was an excellent soccer prospect, even though she ... wasn’t.
On the other end, FBI wiretaps picked up LSU’s (now-suspended) basketball coach Will Wade speaking vividly about what sounded like financial inducements to get basketball prospects to join his program. Everybody’s favorite pull-quote seems to be Wade, talking to an intermediary about his approach to a high school player: “I went to him with a (expletive) strong-ass offer.”
Sidebar. I asked Merriam-Webster lexicographer Peter Sokolowski what was up with the use of “ass” as a suffix, as in “big-ass” “lazy-ass,” “broke-ass.” He told me the dictionary considers it a “post-positive intensive,” which sounds like something that should be between you and your physician.
End of sidebar. Anyway, it’s great that Yale made it into March Madness, although the timing and the opponent are less than ideal.
Let’s end on a more exalted note! Since 2010, I have been a fan of South Carolina’s tiny, scrappy Wofford College, and Wofford’s president has, many times, joined me on my radio show to discuss the (usually far-fetched) chances of the Terriers in the tourney.
This year, Wofford is a mighty 7 seed, and its star player, the unstoppable Fletcher Magee, enters the tournament with 502 career three-pointers. The record is 504. Also, Fletcher Magee is kind of the ultimate name for a series of detective novels.
But here is the best thing. Wofford hosts an annual Ethics Bowl, at which high school teams match wits and principles as they debate thorny moral questions.
This is great! Unless it turns out there has been some bribery in the Bowl, in which case our civilization is finished.