Posted this earlier in the week on the dot com, but reposting here in order to keep with tradition and mark the beginning of a new season...
In honor of opening night
Time makes it evident that there are certain personal questions which will never be completely put to bed by a rational answer.
Why in the hell do I care so much?
In a relatively short amount of time I've been fortunate enough to meet fantastic people from all walks of life, many of whom have been stunned to learn just how much sports - and in particular college basketball - mean to me. A healthy majority of these people have made little attempt to veil the fact that they view athletics as a colossal waste of time. It's an outlook I rarely bother to dispute.
On the surface it all matters so little. Every day a good person dies, a marriage falls apart, someone has the best day of their life, someone has the worst day of their life, and none of it has anything to do with which team put a ball through a hoop more times than another the night before.
I believe the significance of something like sport can only be fully understood by a person who knows beyond doubt or question that they love it. This is why attempting to justify your existence to non-fans will forever be fruitless.
Beyond doubt or question, I love college basketball.
Human beings, I believe, are considerably more dangerous and unhappy when they're bored. Otherwise normal people become individuals capable of awful things the moment life becomes dis-interesting. This being our nature, I've always argued that sports are inherently pro-peace and pro-happiness.
It's impossible to argue that war, for all its deplorable faults, is not interesting. Intricate strategy is involved, million dollar weapons are utilized, a man who would have otherwise lived a life of obscurity can become a national hero. It's all the stuff of great fiction.
I can't claim to have even the slightest understanding of the reality of war, but I've heard enough to gain a passionate appreciation for the state of peace that allows me to sit here and type this with fear for my life stored somewhere behind a box in the seasonal decorations closet of my brain.
Peace is good, and for peace to thrive life has to remain interesting.
For multiple hours some odd days a week you're allowed to get completely lost in something irrefutably engrossing: amazingly gifted individuals working amazingly hard to do amazing things. All of the sudden you're transported to this wonderful, temporary place where it doesn't matter who person next to you voted for in the last election, or if they even voted at all, only that their clothing and shouts of approval or disapproval mimic yours.
It's the type of pure and simple joy that leaves you both nostalgic and anticipatory until you have the chance to do it all again.
Of course it isn't like athletics are the only phenomena capable of sparking these emotions. Sport exists in the same realm as film, aviation, sex, and a bulk of other activities. Which of these things we find agreeable or how frequently they occupy our minds is something all of us still aren't fully (or minimally) able to control. So like most anyone, I often find myself almost uncontrollably gravitating towards something I consider beautiful, be it a song, a woman or a friendship.
There are few things I find more attractive in this world than college basketball.
It isn't just that I see the game as the most aesthetically appealing of its kind or that I believe it's one of the most proven true tests of character (I do and I do), it's a myriad of things, some of which I've only been able to understand over time and some more that I still don't and probably never will.
While all types of love fall outside the scope of absolute understanding, I think it's true that there is at least a partial reflection of oneself in something a person loves.
I embrace second chances and truly believe that people can change for better or worse, so it speaks to me that two weeks into the season, regardless of performance, every team in college basketball still has the potential to achieve each of its major goals. If you've worked as hard as you possibly can and absorbed as much knowledge as you possibly can for five months, then you deserve the opportunity to play until you lose come March.
Obtaining the sport's top prize is extremely unlikely for the vast majority of the 345 teams competing in Division I, but thank God it's not impossible. Thank God the bottom-tier RPI school that won its conference tournament gets the chance to prove itself on the sport's biggest stage, and not inside a quarter-full stadium against a team that doesn't really want to be there, in a game that, for all intents and purposes, has absolutely zero significance. Thank God when VCU beat Southern Cal in Dayton last March that wasn't how their story ended.
There will be triumphs this season, but as always they will be trumped in numbers by failures. There will be literally hundreds of press conferences where teary-eyed twenty-somethings will be forced to sit at a table, answer questions, and come face-to-face with the realization that a goal they dedicated a large chunk of their lives toward will not be attained. It's heartrending, but it's also emotion that is completely pure and completely true, and that's something which is almost impossible to find anymore.
I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be able to fully explain how I've reached the point where a game has so much control over my life, but to be honest, the unknown why or how doesn't bother me anymore. Our lives are not long, so when something makes you happy the foolish thing to do it to question it, and the smart thing to do is simply relish the fact that it does. No apologies, no justification, no rationalization. You go with it.
I'll fully admit to missing a drinking game or two in my college days so that I could watch Holy Cross' Tim Clifford man the post or Marist's Jared Jordan run the point during an ESPNU Friday night Patriot League/MAAC double-header. I fully admit to skipping countless days of school, practice and work since the first-grade to watch basketball games in March. And I fully admit that I will spend more time than any reasonable human being should thinking about, talking about, and watching college basketball for the next five months.
They say the worst thing you can do to love is deny it, and I'm willing to make myself very vulnerable for this game.