The NCAA basketball tournaments have finally come to a close. Congratulations to both the men from Baylor University and the women from Stanford University for winning their respective championships.
After the tournaments were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA realized how much money it lost and apparently couldn’t come to terms with canceling it again. Because without the tournament this year, how would they manage to pay all the players? Oh wait.
In all seriousness, the NCAA tournaments were a joy to watch. It’s become an unofficial nearly three-week holiday throughout the past few years due to the massive storylines that consistently develop. With that being said, let’s look at what went well, what could have been better and what was just straight up ugly.
There isn’t much that beats an underdog story. Given everything the world has been through the past year, we all needed to see some true underdogs in the men’s tournament. Teams like No. 15 Oral Roberts University, No. 12 Oregon State University and No. 11 University of California, Los Angeles all put on some magnificent Cinderella stories — UCLA specifically was a Gonzaga University buzzer-beater away from the championship game.
Also, a quick shout out to No. 8 Loyola University Chicago. The Ramblers gained the hearts of basketball fans across the country by making the Final Four in 2018, and flirted with another Cinderella run this year, before losing in the Sweet 16 to Oregon State.
Just one canceled game:
You got to give credit where credit is due. After numerous canceled and postponed games throughout the season, and after a few teams dropped out of their conference tournaments due to positive COVID-19 tests, the NCAA managed to only cancel one game. The game was a matchup between the University of Oregon and Virginia Commonwealth University, where VCU experienced “multiple positive tests” for COVID-19, according to ESPN — granting the Ducks a round-one victory. But no other games — including any from the Sweet 16 and on — were canceled, which was certainly impressive. Even more so when you consider how several professional leagues such as the MLB and NBA are struggling to contain the virus themselves.
Maybe it was just me, or the limited fan attendance, but I just did not get the same energy from the commentators this year. I understand how hard it is to get excited in a basically empty arena, especially if you’re used to being surrounded by thousands of fans, but if I see a game-winning shot in the final seconds, I need some energy from the people calling the plays.
But the reality is, the game felt like it was on mute for a majority of the contest. Lulls in conversation and a lack of energy made for a brutal combination, making the watching experience much worse than it typically would be.
The Big 10 Conference:
For as much hype as the Big 10 garnered the last year, the fact that none of their teams made the Final Four is just a disgrace. The conference led the nation with a total of nine teams making the tournament, including two No. 1 seeds in the University of Illinois and University of Michigan, and two No. 2 seeds in the University of Iowa and The Ohio State University.
Ohio State ended up losing in the first round, and Iowa and Illinois didn’t do much better, losing in the second. Michigan definitely put the conference on its back by making the Elite 8, but losing to an 11-seed in UCLA is still embarrassing. Every year this conference is consistently labeled as one of the best, but after this year’s showing I’m done with the hype.
The unequal amenities for men and women:
There’s not much else to be said: Seeing this hurt. I understand the men’s tournament generates more revenue than the women’s, but the NCAA is a nonprofit organization, is it not? Its athletes aren’t being paid and aren’t even allowed to make money off their likeness or through brand deals. So then, where is all the revenue going? The schools? The sponsors? The coaches?
The answer should be: back into the game. If you aren’t going to pay athletes, at least make their situation in a bubble city as comfortable as possible. Just after the beginning of the tournament, numerous photos depicting the difference in the male and female facilities surfaced, showing concrete differences in how they were treated in their respective bubbles. Seeing the clear unequal treatment between the men and women tainted this tournament, and it better not happen again.