Monday, March 31, 2008

March Madness

For most of the sports fans I know, March Madness refers to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. For those of you who might not know what this is, I will attempt a judgmental and cynical description. (Why pretend that I find the condition college sports programs acceptable?):

Most universities and many colleges in the United States are home to professional basketball teams, called amateur teams, that are managed by a team of athletic, public relations, and logistics professionals, paid millions of dollars to ensure that the school secures as much money as possible from the billion dollars pool of funds generated by television contracts. The men who run this professional league (white men) lord over the men who actually earn the money for the schools (black men) and there has never been such a disparate economic arrangement in the United States since the abolition of slavery.

The orgasmic climax, this race for piles of cash, culminates each March with the tournament in which sixty-four teams are selected to play for the 'national championship' and the biggest chunk of money. You see, this is an amateur event, so we aren't supposed to talk about the money, but the men involved all do it for the money. The administrators will earn millions and a tiny percentage of the players will get contracts to play basketball in the National Basketball Association (the other professional basketball league in America designed for slightly older men).

Most of the players will be dismissed from school with no degree, no education, no prospects for future employment, and in some cases a pile of student loans coming due. We're not supposed to talk about those (black) men, though, because they are only supposed to go to college to learn, not play sports, and it's their own fault that they have nothing to fall back on. Besides, the money earned by the colleges has to be spent on paying the million-dollar salaries of the (white) men maintaining the leagues. Colleges are, after all, money-making institutions designed for profiteering, not charitable organizations focused on furthering human knowledge.

I have discussed this issue in articles titled Amateur Athletics and The NCAA and The Student Athlete. I think poorly of the NCAA and the billion dollar business that is college athletics.

For most sports fans in America, March Madness is that tournament. I have selected North Carolina to win it all, and I have enjoyed watching David-sized Davidson College upset Goliath after Goliath: Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin, before losing a squeaker to Kansas in the last seconds. So, I think the industry is crooked, but I am entertained.

Besides the Davidson fairy tale run, my fave story of the NCAA tournament was Derrick Rose of Memphis, refusing to have stitches to close a cut because he is afraid of needles. This guy is tough as feathers, and I can only imagine how his prima donna behavior will shine when he leaves college and tries to work int he NBA.

Rose Refused Stitches Due To Needle Phobia

HOUSTON — Derrick Rose was not getting stitches.

No way. No how.

The weekend saw four NCAA tournament games played, but it also marked the opening night of Major League Soccer, the professional soccer league in the United States, and even though my Red Bull New York team was not scheduled to play, I was thrilled to watch.

The entire world is now playing professional soccer! Most leagues are Winter leagues, playing their season from September through May; but, because of our climate, the United States is a Summer league, playing its season from March through October.

March is the month when all nations' professional soccer leagues overlap, so I get to watch a maddening number of matches each weekend.

This past weekend I saw the following broadcasts:

From England: Derby v. Fulham, Manchester United v. Aston Villa, Liverpool v. Everton, and Tottenham v. Newcastle

From Italy: Lazio v. Inter Milan, Juventus v. Parma, AC Milan v. Atalanta

From Spain: Real Betis v. Barcelona

From the USA: New England v. Houston Dynamo, and Colorado v. Los Angeles.

From Scotland: Rangers FC v. Celtic FC

From Argentina: River Plate v. Arsenal

Many other matches from Spain, Germany, and Columbia were also broadcast in my television market, but I saw none of them. I get my fix of South American soccer during the week when Copa Libertadores matches are broadcast live, late at night.

Both MLS matches were a disappointment to me. Reigning champs Houston Dynamo played very poorly against the always-hateful New England Revolution, and the Colorado Rapids made mince-meat of the David Beckham-led Los Angeles Galaxy, in a poorly-officiated match with two red cards, violent tackles, too much blood, and anger verging on rage (even from Lady Landycakes himself).

Actually, I must admit that Landon Donovan showed remarkable leadership on the field and should be reinstated as the LA team captain. When bad calls were made by the ref, Landycakes was right there to negotiate on behalf of the player accused of unfair play, and when Ciaran O'Brien levelled a vicious late-game tackle on Carlos Ruiz, Landycakes bolted right at the perpetrator and shoved him back, leading to a purse-swinging festival that ended with O'Brien red-carded and dismissed from the game. Donovan's intensity, negotiating, and leadership did nothing, however, to prevent an embarrassing drubbing by Colorado. David Beckham should relinquish the captain's armband to Donovan, because he showed absolutely no leadership in a match that required strong guidance from a smart and determined leader. Bonnets off to Landycakes, ladies!

Referee Abiodun Okulaja was atrocious. I often sympathize with soccer referees because one official is expected to cover a field larger than an NFL field, so it is common for an official to miss a call or two throughout a match. This match was allowed to spiral out-of-control by the official and his poor performance jeopardized the safety of the players.

Okulaja's unforgivable sin was making a call against Abel Xavier in the box that was not a foul. Xavier did come from behind, but he kicked the ball and the attacking player's stumble to the ground should not have been called a foul. When Xavier protested, he was yellow-carded for dissent. Later in the match, Xavier was called for a foul and bumped the ref during his vehement and dramatic protest. The ref had no choice but to book him a second time (this time for abusive language) which led to Xavier's dismissal. This took place in the 89th minute, and the match was long-lost, but it had also been long out-of-control.

I don't like Abel Xavier because he is a show-off and a hot-head and I think he is bad for the sport, but the calls by the referee would frustrate the most level-headed player and I hope that this ref is sent to officiating classes soon so that he can stop losing control of matches.

By midnight Saturday, I was soccered-out! Sunday allowed fewer opportunities for viewing, but I ended the weekend sated and a little maddened by so much soccer.

I am a lucky man, and March Madness for me is this weekend when I can watch soccer from all over the world, including the United States.

Next weekend, I make my way to Giants Stadium for the Red Bulls home opener. This will be the last opening day at Giants Stadium, as Red Bull Park should be ready for next season.

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