By Lauren Herber, Co-Editor
A couple of weeks ago, the 2016 March Madness Championship game ended with an exciting buzzer-beater, allowing Villanova University to take home the championship title for the first time in 31 years. March Madness, a single-elimination style tournament, is the Super Bowl of college basketball. Being from Indiana (which, you may know, is marked by a fanatical obsession with basketball), I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to my attitude towards the sport. I grew up shooting hoops with my brother, trying (and failing) to beat my dad in H.O.R.S.E., and frantically scrambling to nail my layups in games of Knockout with my friends. My short height and general lack of coordination kept me from being the star of my high school’s basketball team, but it did not keep me from being the team manager and analyzing turnovers, travels, and rebounds with the coach after every game. Plus, both my parents attended Indiana University, where they developed a love not only for each other but also for the IU Hoosiers basketball team. I was doomed from the start. IU blood ran in my veins; there was no escaping an undying (and often irrational) love for the Crimson and Cream.
Generally, I assume a pretty apathetic attitude when it comes to sports. Sure, I’ll watch an NFL game every once in a while or sit through a baseball game, but I certainly won’t rearrange my schedule to catch a game or shell out big bucks just to see some overpaid athlete perform mediocre stunts with a ball. There are, however, two exceptions to this apathy: the March Madness tournament and the Boston Red Sox. Since this is an article about basketball, I’ll save the story of Big Papi throwing me a baseball at a Red Sox game for a later date. For the majority of the year, I don’t give two hoots about keeping up with any particular teams besides the Hoosiers, but come March, all bets are off. In March you’ll find me repeatedly calling my brother at all hours of the day (whose knowledge of sports and teams is unfathomably endless), analyzing the track records of teams I’ve never even heard of (Middle Tennessee State? Who are you?), and researching who the experts are counting on for upsets and Cinderella stories. After I’ve gathered my research and filled out my bracket, I settle in: let the games begin.
This year, after a devastating bracket buster (I had Michigan State taking home the gold) and finding myself in a place as unlike Indiana as they come, I got a little curious: do our T-bird professors watch college basketball? Do they succumb to the Madness? Are they also weeping over busted brackets? After sending out a few emails, I was met with a few disappointing responses (“Sorry Lauren, no bracket this year;” “Sorry, I don’t keep up with college basketball;” and “Too busy planning your global curriculum”) and a lot of responses telling me to “Ask Professor Bowen!! He’s the sports fanatic around here.” So I did just that, and I wasn’t disappointed.
He first tried to convince me that he hadn’t given a thought to the tournament: “I have not had a single moment to watch March Madness, given my constant work on my global teaching lesson plans, as well as my tireless pursuit of publishing top tier, number one in innovation, journal articles. Feel free to share this, widely.” But I wasn’t fooled; I’d heard from other professors that he had attended Michigan State, so I knew he had some skin in the game. He emailed me back: “Actually, don’t tell anyone, I have watched almost every minute of March Madness. I am so thankful that the NIT basketball airs on other nights so I can catch that, as well. I did not fill out a bracket. Too much work only to make clear that Michigan State University would be the National Champion. Many analysts shared that thought. Both my EMBA and PhD are from MSU. Uhh, they lost to Middle Tennessee State in the first round. I don’t know much about the school, but once heard it is located in central Tennessee. Both a ‘bracket buster’ and ‘heart breaker.’ Yet, my viewing will continue to the end, and joyfully so.” Finally, a chink in the armor of intellectual superiority and untouchability: I had succeeded in finding a Thunderbird professor who (albeit a brilliant and extremely talented teacher) also cared about low-brow pastimes such as college basketball! So Professor, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry about the pain you suffered…but happy to know that I wasn’t the only one suffering. Misery loves company.
I also reached out to our beloved (but sometimes hated—sorry Professor, that FPL case killed me) professor of international finance: Professor Moffett. He didn’t fill out a bracket this year, though he normally does. “Although I am not a huge round ball fan, I have always enjoyed filling out the bracket and losing,” he told me. Of course, he then had to take a thing that I love and destroy it with probability (probability and statistics have no place in college basketball! Only passion!). “I have had a friend for many years who was the international treasurer of McDonald’s. He did all of their foreign exchange stuff, including providing the data every year for the Economist Magazine’s Big Mac Index. Anyway, he is a huge basketball fan. Every year he and one of his buddies build a Monte Carlo simulation model to predict the probabilities that all 64 teams would have of winning. He sends it out to me every year. He has moved on from McD’s now, but still sends them. Just goes to show how you can put statistical and quantitative methods to work for good causes!” Although I’m a firm believer that statistical models ruin the magic of filling out a bracket, I love this story because it shows how truly versatile March Madness is: you don’t even have to like basketball to enjoy the tournament. Hate sports but love numbers and probability? Guess what: the tournament is for you, too.
I also talked to Patrick, our cherished Pub bartender, about his thoughts on the tournament. “I love the NCAA tournament,” he told me between popping the tops off of Rolling Rocks and long-pouring Jack & Cokes, “but the thing that sucks about college basketball is that it’s become a 10-day-a-year event. The quality of the sport has gone down.” You know what else sucks? Patrick had UNC (University of North Carolina) winning the tournament (reminder: they lost the championship game in a buzzer-beater to Villanova). Sorry for your loss, Patrick. I felt your pain, very deeply, when Michigan State was knocked out of the tournament by a fifteen seed. Although if you ask me, any year that IU beats Kentucky is a good year indeed.
A note on why this article was published so long after the tournament ended: Last week we did not publish a traditional copy of Das Tor due to the fact that the team was working full-steam on a project called Das Tor Through the Years, a compilation of Das Tor articles from 1969-2015. If you do not yet have a copy and would like one, please contact myself or any of the Das Tor team members!