I know this is a Steelers blog, but since we're in the heart of March Madness, I thought I'd write a little something about the NCAA tournament.
Every sport has a marquee event. A party that everyone would love an invitation to. In the NFL, players, coaches, owners, and fans talk about their desire to go to the Super bowl. In Major League Baseball, it's World Series or bust. In the NHL, it's the Stanley Cup Finals, and in the NBA, it's the NBA Finals. Each event showcases the final two survivors of their league playing for the right to be called champions.
However, when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Promised Land is the the semi-final round, more famously known as The Final Four. When a team reaches that round, it has arrived at the Pearly Gates. The fans celebrate in the streets and players and coaches cut down pieces of the net to save and cherish forever.
In most cases, if the team fails to win the championship or even make it to the finals, the season is still considered a success.
I'm a huge Pitt Men's basketball fan and along with many other Panther faithful, I've been waiting for years-all the way back to the days of Charles Smith and Sean Miller-for them to finally get over that hump and make it to the Final Four. I've been through all the gut-wrenching losses from Barry Goheen's three pointer that sunk Pitt in 1988 to Scottie Reynold's coast-to-coast lay-up just two seasons ago in the regional finals. I don't know if I'll ever see the Panthers make it to the Final Four but if they do, they could lose by 50 points in the semi-final round and I'd probably still cherish the experience forever. Just seeing coach Jamie Dixon and the players cutting down the nets in New Orleans next weekend in the Southeast Regional Finals would be a dream come true for so many Pitt fans who have been waiting for years to see that happen. It would be a huge milestone and probably elevate the program to an "elite" status in college basketball.
I find that very fascinating because it's simply not like that in other major sports. A team is nowhere if it doesn't at least make it to the finals. If the Steelers lost in the semi-finals (better known as the AFC Championship Game), I know I wouldn't be satisfied with that. You think baseball fans are happy when their team loses in the League Championship series? Former Reds and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson once said that the World Series is great fun but the playoffs are tragedy. Nobody remembers the teams that don't make it to the black-tie affair.
Kudos to the NCAA for creating a tournament so spectacular that making it to the semi-finals is on-par with reaching the Finals of every other major sport. George Mason shocked the world and made it to the Final Four in '06 and people still talk about it. The players from that squad will forever be known as Final Four participants.
Now, if only the NCAA can do something about the football side of the equation. Who won the National Championship this past season?