Monday, I ran into my pal Glenn Bertling, who was taking a peek at the sports page to catch up on the NCAA Tournament, a national obsession that makes its way into the lives of millions who couldn’t name one starter on most of the teams.
I asked him the question that has become as clichéd as“Hot enough for ‘ya?” in mid-July: “How’s your bracket looking?”
Glenn’s response was pretty typical of many other folks these days: “It’s in shambles!”
As we head to the Sweet Sixteen phase of this year’s dance, we’ve already seen LaSalle become the first team to make it this far from a play-in game to the Sweet Sixteen.
Additionally, we’ve seen the first 15 seed — Florida Gulf Coast University, only in its second year of even being a Division I school — advance to the final 16 as well.
After a three-day hiatus, the action resumes Thursday night.
Glenn got a bird’s eye view of some of the tournament's action. As a loyal Notre Dame fan, he and another Irish fan and alum of Notre Dame, Eric Wiechart, attended Friday and Saturday the Dayton Regional, which comes back to the Gem City every few years.
Bertling felt the opportunity to see the Irish pull off a rare feat in their Friday loss to Iowa State — make the football team’s flogging in the National Championship football game look good by comparison — was too good to pass up. He certainly paid for the privilege.
I have fond memories of a 1995 trip I took down Interstate 75 with several of my pals to watch the regional in Dayton. The little boy that lives within many of us AARP-card-carrying men prompted me to keep the ticket stubs from my three games.
I remember my experience was definitely enhanced by my alma mater, Miami University, a 12 seed, knocking off fifth-seeded Arizona, thought to be a National Championship contender that year, before losing in a very close game to Virginia.
When I asked Glenn about his experience, he told me he enjoyed time spent with his pal Eric and the games themselves, but he doubted if he’d try that in-person March Madness experience again. The exorbitant cost of the entertainment included almost $200 in service fees just to purchase the three games’ worth of tickets. For both fees and the ticket costs, Bertling said he paid close to $900.
Glenn probably could have flown to Las Vegas, gotten a room and enjoyed last weekend’s opening games on the big screens in a casino’s sports book and gotten more bang for his entertainment buck.
Having been in Vegas on an NCAA Tournament weekend in 2002, I can attest he definitely would have enjoyed that experience as much as I did at Caesar’s in an environment that pulsated with the excitement and heartbreak of those who’d wagered the games.
When I got home, I went into my office and grabbed my ’95 tournament stubs off the bookshelf. I saw the games were $30 each. While I don’t remember what the service fee was, I’m guessing my three games cost about $125 or so. Seems like a pretty dramatic markup in less than twenty years.
As for brackets and such, this year, I just was in the wrong place when it came time to get in one of those pools. For the first time in years, I find myself bracket-less.
While I watched others crumple their sheets in frustration at the ends of games during my two bar shifts at the Knights of Columbus on Thursday and Saturday, I enjoyed every result, especially LaSalle’s and Gulf Coast’s Cinderella stories.
I found this bracket-less thing to be sort of a no-guilt way of enjoying March Madness.
So, for all of you with your crumpled brackets who know your $10 again is down the drain this year, think of Glenn and Eric. They not only have crumpled brackets but also had to answer the NCAA’s version of a question fans who wish to see live actionare forced to answer: “What’s in your wallet?”