Op Ed- March Madness: A welcome return to normalcy with an important legacy
By Brendan Kolding
March Madness, the annual tournament that culminates in the crowning of national champions in men’s and women’s college basketball, was among the very first events to be cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. I, like many Americans, have loved March Madness for most of my life. From watching games around class to watching them after work; from tracking developments on a bracket cut from the newspaper to monitoring games on my smart phone, I have always followed the hallowed tournament. My friends and I enjoyed watching the games over beer and pizza in college, and it has even been more fun to watch them with our own children and see the next generation of fans partake of this tradition. The cancellation of the 2020 tournament was prescient of the kind of year 2020 would turn out to be.
I have many cherished tournament memories. One is listening to Gonzaga’s first-round game against Fairleigh Dickinson as I drove to the 2019 Speak Out Seattle Candidate Forum. I was running for City Council at the time and this forum was the first major event in District 1. An estimated 200 people made time to hear five of us address a thoughtful slate of question. The event was covered on local news directly before the sports report that showed highlights of the tournament games. Those in attendance may have noticed the challengers bantering with each other before the forum started. What were we discussing? The tournament.
There is no argument that college athletics represents equity or equality. Some schools can afford to invest more heavily in athletics than others. However, during March, each postseason-eligible team has a direct path to the national championship: win games. The winner of each conference tournament is an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament and the victors in each round advance to the next. At tipoff, the score is tied at zero. For forty blissful minutes, it does not matter which team has the more palatial practice facility or the heftiest recruiting budget. The team that chartered a jet to the game is not given stronger consideration than the team that flew commercial. The outcome of the game is determined between the lines by athletes who really do not care what is printed on the front of their opponents’ jerseys. Both teams start out with a chance to win and have a certain amount of control over the outcome of the game. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has recently commented, “It’s the fairest championship, by far.” That is a large part of the appeal of March Madness.
In elections, particularly local ones, the field is usually very similar to that of the NCAA tournament. Well-known candidates with ample war chests compete with newcomers who have scant resources. The former have an advantage over the latter. However, we do a disservice to our democracy when we do not let the matter of which candidates receive our vote be settled between the lines. We should force incumbents and celebrity challengers to earn our vote and allow lesser-known candidates the opportunity to do the same. As we head into another important election season, I encourage all to attend public forum and debates. Observe these spectacles like you would a 12-seed versus 5-seed tournament game, and then vote for whomever performs better. We are suffering from poor leadership in this region. The cure is active participation in the democratic process coupled with a commitment to true competition.