The Ides of March Madness



The Ides of March are upon us, draped in blasts of color, product sneakers, sweat and mad men in garish suits. Players perform a ritual dance in the center of us, each with his own take on that ancient theme: victory over other men.

Barely more than children, they shoulder the invisible weight of millions of the anonymous, both supporters unseen and more millions opposed; and to the fiscal benefit of gargantuan institutions. They do this all for little more than pride and shelter and food, cynically referred to as “an education.” And, in certain cases, not even that. But we don’t pity them, and they don’t appear to feel pitied. Perhaps this is due to youth and raw enthusiasm, and to unrealistic dreams of the future.

Defeat, however crushing, in the tournament is part of the spectacle of the game. (Photo: Gannett)
Defeat, however crushing, in the tournament is part of the spectacle of the game. (Photo: Gannett)

The men who lead them view the proceedings through a divergent prism. Each coach seeks to protect his own interests, masked as in benefit of the youth in his charge. For these later-age would-be field generals, only the next job is paramount, or holding on frantically to the job you have or burnishing a legacy as Coach. Masked as altruism, well-compensated grown men hang their hopes on fundamentally flawed and mostly frightened near-kids. It’s gross but understood, a system we readily own. Spectators are concerned with one or both of two things: who is the winner, and whom he competes with next.

For all involved, outcome is uncertain for two halves of 20 minutes, occasionally a few minutes more. And in the end, lives are changed. Some move on all but wordlessly to a next career –lawyer, businessman, salesman, bus driver, security guard, coach – but some never recover, detritus to a passing interest, a false hope, a transient moment in time. It is the end of youth.

In its aftermath, analysts analyze and reach for grand visions of what is really happening here, and we are all of us prone to overthink what is essentially a simple thing.

The NCAA Tournament plays out in huge arenas before tens of thousands of fans.
The NCAA Tournament plays out in huge arenas before tens of thousands of fans.

Because there is The Bracket, all linear simplicity and master plan, Godlike as the structure from which all happens. Unfair and egalitarian at the some time, it pits winners and losers, but does not predict which is which until fate intervenes. It is both great equalizer and the crusher of dreams. It does not speak, except in guidance to a conclusion wherein only one group may say they are victors. Cruel, soulless, but enervating nonetheless, The Bracket maintains order and provides for helpless action, ever directing by standing stock still.

Though it seems pressing and important, all of this plays out in just three weeks in a year among millions of years. It is televised, broadcast live to be consumed, buffet style, gorged on. It’s fanatical, lyrical, stuffed to excess with drama, manufactured and not. It is America on display, a micro-vision of Democracy, American style, interrupted by breaks of constant commercial attack stitched with snippets of gritty, sloppy struggle against time, against foe, against the forces of the universe pushing in upon the players and the coaches and even the fans, whose tension won’t rest until the last second has ticked off the clock, the red light illuminated and the horn blared, one side elated and its counterpart heartbroken. Yes, this is America. Land of the victor, home of the victim.

Since our dawn, we have invented games to test our will, to thrill and disgust in equal measure, to pit our insecurities and flaws against the greatness of our spirit and our strength. These are our little wars, our heroes and our villains, our brothers and our enemies. We love games because in their aftermath we move on, unlike in war, triumph in our chest if we are fortunate, loss if not. But none are truly lost, except to time, their just passed performance on the stage but one memory in a vast ocean of them, their Herculean feats and fantastic failures insignificant in a space of infinite and ancient starlight.

Or, perhaps, it’s just some boys playing a game. Who can say?


Originally from Kentucky, Joshua Lars Weill has written for GQ, Yahoo! Sports, The Classical and The Awl. He lives and writes in Washington, DC. Follow him on twitter @AgonicaBoss.