If you’re like me, when it comes to your NCAA basketball tournament bracket this year, March Madness has been more like March Sadness.
Unfortunately, my selection has proven to be the kiss of death for many a team this past month.
However, the tournament has been a month of redemption for the University of Virginia. Just one year after gaining the ignominious distinction of being the first No. 1 seed in the history of the tournament to lose in the first round, the Cavaliers played Monday night for the National Championship.
Virginia’s win over Texas Tech in the championship game underscored what has to be seen as one of the best comeback stories in sports. To go from last season’s first round loss of historic proportions to just one season later winning the National Championship in overtime is about as redemptive of a story as you can get that’s purely connected to events on the field or the court.
The tournament also featured schools breaking out of their usual mold. Primarily considered “football schools,” both Texas Tech and Auburn made it to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Of the teams to make it to the tournament’s final weekend, only Michigan State is accustomed to being there. The Spartans, led by legendary coach Tom Izzo, bowed out to Texas Tech on Saturday.
Virginia’s run was not without its share of controversy. The officiating calls in the final moments of that game will forever leave Auburn fans asking what if. A missed double dribble call and then a letter-of-the-law foul call on a three-point shot with fractions of a second left on the clock that some critics have called a “ticky-tack” foul call resulted in Virginia getting three free throws and pulling out a 63-62 win.
That forever notion of “what could have been” is a feeling Mizzou fans have felt before too. As the No. 8 seed in the West Region in 1995, the Tigers had eventual National Champion UCLA on the ropes before Tyrus Edney took the ball the length of the court in the final seconds to sink a layup at the buzzer. That gave UCLA a 75-74 win and prevented what would otherwise have been one of the most joyous upsets in the history of Columbia.
Games like that, painful as they can be at the time, get etched into the lore of a program, a school, or a professional franchise and transcend generations. That’s part of the allure of sports, how the bitter disappointments eventually make the victories all the sweeter when they do come to pass.
“Curses” are broken, historic losing streaks come to an end and generations of young men and women aspire to be a part of it all. Through it all the stories continue.
Virginia has had its redemption. Someday, Mizzou might very well have some of its own.
When it comes to Mizzou and the NCAA right now though, it’s not the Tigers that are in need of redemption, but the governing body itself.
If the NCAA is going to hold to academic standards as a pillar of collegiate sports and impose punishments on players or teams that attempt to skirt such standards, the penalty has to fit the crime.
In the case of Mizzou’s programs hit by NCAA sanctions this past winter, most notably the football, baseball and softball programs, which have been barred from postseason play this coming season, the punishment most definitely does not fit the crime.
If the NCAA were to vacate wins for Mizzou teams in which players who should have been declared ineligible due to academic infractions competed, that might be considered a just response. However, it is not just to punish the school’s current crop of athletes committed to play for those programs for the sins of past athletes.
The situation with the University of North Carolina, which was under investigation at the same time as Mizzou for arguably more egregious infractions, but refused to cooperate with the NCAA investigation while Mizzou cooperated fully, only served to rub salt in the Tigers’ wounds when no punishments were handed down to the Tar Heels.
The appeal campaign continues in Columbia to see the postseason bans overturned. Justice needs to be served. All we can do is wait and hope that redemption is coming sooner rather than later.