The Beauty in the Madness

Mens Basketball

The NCAA Tournament is here, and it has been wild!!! The annual men’s and women’s college basketball tournament is a national tradition for many of us to gather around tv’s, create what we believe will be winning brackets (most of us already have “busted” brackets!), and talk smack about teams and players with our friends, families, and colleagues. This year, the men’s tournament features 68 teams from 33 states, including Washington, D.C., competing to be crowned champions. Despite rankings, there’s no guarantee that the most talented or successful team will win. While the University of Houston, the University of Connecticut, Purdue University, and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill are the top-ranked teams this year, there’s a slim chance that all these teams will make it to the Final Four.

Success in the NCAA tournament is determined by how well teams utilize their opportunities rather than by name or resources. It’s a fact that many people overlook when they assume that attending a prestigious school or having access to more resources guarantees success. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was arguing not to give smaller leagues tournament bids because they would not be competitive, and the SEC only had two out of the eight teams Tennessee and Alabama from the conference making it to the sweet 16. Wow. And two SEC schools lost to schools from “lesser conferences’ ‘ (Auburn lost to Yale and Kentucky lost to Oakland) in the first round! This arrogance too often occurs in NCAA competition and college admission. The assumption is that schools without “name recognition” are good, and everyone else is subpar. However, that is not the reality; success in college and beyond is dependent on students applying themselves in competition and the classroom, making the most of the opportunities presented by their college or university.

The NCAA tournament also showcases the greatness of the higher education system in the U.S. It allows us to witness the diversity of schools throughout the country that vary in size, location, and academic offerings, as well as learn about schools that are often overlooked in the college admission process. Many people might not know where Creighton, Longwood, or Duquesne Universities are located. Still, these institutions and countless others offer students so much more than the same old names we typically think of when considering schools that give students the best opportunities in college and beyond.

In 2024, given the chaos of college admission and the SCOTUS decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, we cannot overlook the hypocrisy that exists in college athletics. Many of the participating student-athletes were recruited, and the coaches and scouts had all the information about their ability, racial identity, and everything else necessary to evaluate if that student was the right fit for their program. This is different for non-athletes at many of the same schools that are part of the NCAA tournament! It begs the question: would the top teams be as competitive if they didn’t have access to all the necessary information before making a scholarship offer? It’s doubtful. It’s disappointing that these same opportunities are not available to all students who apply to college to give them a chance to show their full potential and win! It also must be highlighted that many of these same schools are thriving off a competitive edge, and many of the students they recruit have states that are banning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives at some of these same schools. 

What we love about the NCAA Tournament is that it equalizes the playing field in college athletics in just a few weeks by providing a platform where teams from all backgrounds can compete, succeed, and make a name for themselves nationally. This emphasis on merit, opportunity, and competition contributes to the diversity and vibrancy of college basketball and reinforces the values of fairness and inclusivity in sports and, one day, admissions.

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