Monday, December 8, 2008

Incomple List of College Basketball Obsession

After attending the Old Spice Classic, I have come to the definitive conclusion that all crazy college basketball fans should at some point in their life attend at least one of these marquee eight team early season tournaments. Here is an incomplete list of things a true college basketball fan should do. 1 is rookie, 10 is obsessed fan.

1) Take off work to watch the Thursday and Friday afternoon games of the first round of the NCAA tournament.

No, I’m not saying sneak away at lunch to watch a few minutes, or leave at 3:30 for a “doctor’s appointment”. Take the day off. If you don’t do this, I cannot respect you as a college basketball fan.

2) Get season tickets for a local team. In February, obsess about your team’s RPI ranking.

The true joy of following a college basketball team is that by February almost every game matters. You root for your own team. You root against teams above your team. You root for teams that you played in the non-conference schedule. You root against Duke. (Well, after the Olympics, I’m not rooting against Coach K as strongly as I did in the past, but most people include that last one.)

3) Attend an NCAA tournament game in person.

I was tempted to say, “Attend the first or second day of the NCAA tournament in person”, since seeing 4 games in one day is an experience everyone should try once. But a lot of people love to watch the opening weekend on TV since you can see four games at once, so I’ll let it slide if you prefer to attend the Sweet Sixteen.

But you haven’t lived until you’ve shown up and seen a stadium half full of crazed Kentucky fans wearing blue. (My favorite is still the old farmer looking guy with the overalls and the blue Kentucky shirt underneath.)

You haven’t lived until you’ve had a chance to grade the quality of the celebrity alumni in attendance. Hey, there is Nick Lachey for Cincinnati. Hey, there is Bill Murray for Illinois.

You haven’t lived until you can grade the skill level of the different bands and cheerleader squads.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a higher seeded team upset a lower seeded team in person.

4) Attend the Final Four

Chances are, unless you live in Missoula, Montana, that you can see an NCAA tournament game without much effort. And while attending the Final Four may take a little more work, it is incredible to see how the Final Four descends on a city and takes over. Much like the Super Bowl, there are streets blocked off for block parties. And you can always find the ESPN set where Digger Phelps is prognosticating. But don’t forget to look for the under-the-radar events. In 2005, when Illinois went to the Final Four, Missouri and Illinois held an alumni game at the Savvis Center a few days earlier.

5) Take time off work to watch the conference tournaments.

Every game has huge NCAA implications. Every game is win or go home. Often 3-5 games are on at once and accessible by a standard cable package. Championship week is the whole reason I created this blog.

6) Greet your team at the airport after a huge road win, or attend a pep rally scheduled at the last minute because of an NCAA tournament win.

This one could be easy so perhaps it should be closer to the top of the list, but it assumes the team you are following is actually good enough to celebrate something. That part may be hard.

7) Attend a major conference tournament in its entirety.

On paper, this may seem pretty similar to attending an NCAA tournament event. But it isn’t even close. Attending a conference tournament requires a tremendous amount of stamina.

If you attend the first and second round of the NCAA tournament, you’ll see four games, get a day off to regroup and then go back and see two games. Certainly this requires effort, but this is nothing like seeing the ACC tournament in person. Four games one day, four games the next day, two games the next day, and then the title game?! Trust me, only a truly obsessed fan can make it through the second day without their eyes glazing over.

8) Attend a mid-major conference tournament.

Find out why fans from Hempstead, NY are willing to travel all the way to Richmond, VA to see the Hofstra Pride in action. Find out why fans from Northern Iowa say “Anyone but Southern”, referencing the overwhelming number of Southern Illinois fans that descend on the MVC tournament every year.

9) Read what other writers say and start a blog to document your own experience.

I’m often guilty of being too busy to read and quote other blogs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t read some of the great sports writers who are out there. Along those lines, I was very saddened to return from my trip and hear that Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated, recently had a stroke. My thoughts are with Dr. Z and his family and I certainly wish him the best.

Dr. Z is one of the few people to keep his own game notes on football games and as such often has the most important All-Pro ratings of any NFL writer. But perhaps the most touching thing he wrote occurred earlier this year. In one of his columns, Dr. Z wrote that he fell asleep during the fourth quarter of a game and woke up to find his wife’s arms around him, continuing to tally his numbers on his personal scorecard. We should all be so blessed to find someone we love who can accept the passion we have for college basketball.

But the other thing that caught my eye was how Bill Simmons referenced Dr. Z’s stroke and how Bill indicated how influential Dr. Z had been on his writing. I’m not sure if it was big picture things: Did Dr. Z’s mentions of his "beautiful redhead" influence Bill to include his wife’s mini-column? Maybe Dr. Z's influence was more subtle than that, but if you are starting out with a blog, there is nothing wrong with learning your style and craft from those who have come before. Today’s column could be called a patented Bill Simmons’ "list column".

Even if only a handful of people read “Yet Another” column, who cares? If you care about college basketball, share your obsession.

10) Attend an eight team early season tournament (Maui, Anaheim, Old Spice, ect.).

This takes an even greater level of stamina because early in the season, the neutral fans don’t know who to cheer for. There is no “seeding” to allow fans to cheer for the clear underdog. But when you can watch a tournament like I just watched where:

i) Wichita State, Michigan St., Tennessee, and Gonzaga brought enough fans to create an NCAA tournament level neutral court atmosphere

ii) The “worst” team, Sienna has three clear stars (Edwin Ubiles, Kenny Hansbrouck, and Alex Franklin) and was incredibly fun to watch

iii) At least 8 of the 12 games were exciting

iv) You get to see a 250 pound high school tuba player dance to “Joy to the World” and end the song by doing the splits

Well folks, you’ll have a great time. I’ll be back with more details on the Old Spice Classic later in the month. For now, my vacation is over and it is time to catch up on the real world.