By Brett Younger
NCAA college basketball tournament brackets are being emailed, faxed and taped on refrigerators. Many fans will make their picks without reflecting on the theological implications.
Unfortunately, some with no real love for basketball are filling out brackets. People who do not care will pick Virginia because of Aunt Virginia, Wisconsin-Milwaukee because of Laverne and Shirley, San Diego State because of Ron Burgundy, Colorado because of John Denver, Dayton because of the Wright Brothers, Stanford because of Condoleezza Rice, Kentucky because of Ashley Judd and George Washington because of George Washington.
They will pick Brigham Young to take out Oregon because a duck would not have a chance against a cougar. Picking between the Arizona Wildcats and Weber State Wildcats, as well as the Kentucky Wildcats and the Kansas State Wildcats, is confusing. The Villanova Wildcats are taking on the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers, which is hard to pick. Thankfully, those Panthers are not likely to meet the Pitt Panthers.
Most nicknames show little imagination, so it is hard not to love the Albany Great Danes, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Delaware Blue Hens, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, Manhattan Jaspers, Massachusetts Beacons, Saint Louis Billikens, Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks and Xavier Musketeers.
Many will not care if their picks actually win, but if some tiny team like the Wofford Terriers beats some big dog like the Michigan Wolverines, these prognosticators will think they are Jimmy the Greek. We know deep down that it is wrong to pick against Kentucky because their players don’t go to class or for Cal Poly because it sounds like a dental product.
Basketball matters. Indifference runs contrary to the Christian faith. Jesus cares; so should his followers.
Others have learned that picking Texas Southern to win it all will leave you without a team two hours into the tournament, so they throw in with the experts. Favoring the favorites is the easy way. They cast their lots with No. 1 seeds — Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Virginia. They bet that 2s will always beat 15s, 3s over 14s, and 8s over 9s. They give up on high hoops hopes, and give themselves only to the solid hardwood of the expected. If there are no upsets, they will have their bracket laminated. These people are no fun to play with.
Something is desperately wrong with doing what is safe. God does not call us to be sensible. People of faith do not carefully weigh the alternatives. Jesus lived beyond prudence; so should his followers.
People of faith eschew apathy and predictability. We belong to a different world from the one where big schools with big players and big money win all of the big games. We follow our hoop dreams.
We give our hearts to directional schools (North Carolina Central, Western Michigan), states that do not sound like states (San Diego State, Weber State) and schools that are not often on national television (Albany, Coastal Carolina).
We take seriously the religious inferences of our choices. Because we like the new pope, we look favorably at the Catholic schools (Creighton, Dayton, Gonzaga, Manhattan, Providence, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, Villanova and Xavier). Because we like not having a pope and do not have nine schools in the big dance, we are sympathetic toward the Baptist schools (Baylor and Mercer).
The first round features a clash between two universities that have divinity schools — Duke and Mercer — but Duke is the Blue Devils, which sounds like they are cheering for the other team, so serious theologians cheer for the Bears. Our love for the Mercers in this tournament may keep us from winning the office pool, but Jesus calls us to hope.
What is the point of living in the world of boring brackets, when we can live in the vibrant rainbow dreams are made of? Why wouldn’t we choose a world in which a small Baptist college with little athletic tradition and not enough rebounding could take the trophy?
Picking with our hearts may be madness, but the faith-filled choose the NCAA tournament of what should be. People of faith believe that David will defeat Goliath. We do not give ourselves to what is most likely. We dream of a tournament and a world that is better than it is.