Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rooting for Goliath

When given a choice, most people will root for David before ever cheering for Goliath. That is why I was in a strange situation on Sunday afternoon, when I was cheering for Kansas over Virginia Commonwealth University in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. I was actively cheering for the number-one seed to beat the number-11 seed, an urban state school in Richmond, Va., that most people hadn’t heard of before the tournament. 

No, I wasn’t cheering for Kansas because of my bracket (though I did have the Jayhawks taking it all), but because I legitimately wanted Kansas to win. After they beat up on the ultimate David, the 16 seed and my Alma mater Boston University in the first round, I had to cheer for them. Plus, I feel as though I have a semi-vested interest because my brother is buddies with one of the Kansas starting-five.

Even as I cheered for the number-one seed, I felt like I was doing something fundamentally wrong. I was disgusted in myself as I cheered for the Jayhawks to come back from a double-digit deficit; as I stood on my feet when they pulled within two points; and as I wallowed in their defeat to “David.”

So why do we in the U.S. always cheer on David? Why would we all cheer against the programs that work hard to be the best, and put the time and money into being the best? 

Because we like to feel like anything is possible, that’s why. We like to watch a game and believe that VCU can beat Kansas, or Butler can beat the University of Pittsburgh. We want to believe that on any given day, anyone can win. That’s why we reveled in Appalachian State’s victory in football over the University of Michigan a couple of years ago, and VCU’s win on Sunday.

And there is no greater place to cheer on the underdog than in the NCAA tournament. It’s the only place where, on a regular basis, year-after-year, we see the lower seed team topple the higher-ranked team, where the less-known programs have a shot to topple the powerhouse programs. 

And this year is certainly no different, as for only the third time ever, no number-one seeded team reached the Final Four.

Of course in the Final Four, the two Davids left are playing each other, as VCU and Butler square off in the semis. This brings about a conundrum – if you are rooting solely for the underdog, then certainly the VCU Rams are the team to cheer for. But if you want to root for the team that has the best chance of beating the Goliath-division team – in this case, UConn or Kentucky – then you should probably cheer for Butler, the so-called underdog who lost in the championship to UNC last year.

In the end, I’ve jumped back on the David bandwagon and will be cheering on the underdog in the championship, whether it’s Butler or VCU. Because in the long run, there’s nothing any sports fan loves more than a Cinderella story.

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