Going through hoops: 9 alternatives to March Madness

What drives Americans’ March Madness mania? Is it a love for the game of basketball — or merely a love of games? Team bragging rights or the individual’s need to always be right?

Humans are compelled and impelled to make choices. When presented with empty boxes to check or blanks to fill in, we cannot resist. Combined with social media madness, our penchant for picking and sharing is off the charts these days — the act alone is satisfying, as if pressing the button is what presses our buttons, not the treat that gets dispensed or the victor’s glory.

Facebook itself has its roots in a simple either/or flow chart: It sprung from Mark Zuckerberg’s simple face-off program to determine the “hotter” Harvard chick.

democracy---people-votingIf only such selection fever translated to 100% voter turnout come election time. If democracy went 100% digital, maybe voting, too, would prove irresistible.

In the meantime, to fill the check-box void before Round 3 of the NCAA basketball tournament begins Thursday, I’ve scoured the universe for interesting alternative brackets for non-hoops fans to play favorites.




  1. Only hours to go before the Philadelphia-area public media provider WHYY wraps up its NPR vs. PBS “Public Media Madness” contest. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey host Neil deGrasse Tyson seems on top of the edutainment world lately. Can he rule as brainy talking head? Your other three Final Four contenders: Mister Rogers, Terry Gross and Peter Sagal. I pick Tyson over Rogers because he’s a LIVING legend (or soon to be).new-trailer-for-cosmos-featuring-neil-degrasse-tyson
  2. Minnesota Public Radio steps up the pace with music match-ups every half-hour from 9 to 5 through Friday’s final round. “The Current March Madness” started with 64 recording artists, featuring close shaves between such bands as U2 and Hüsker Dü, The Roots and Public Enemy. Today, see who challenges Elvis. Keep in mind: Times listed are Central Time.
  3. Pearl JamBeckA catty rivalry pits female characters from a defunct TV drama. The “Dallas” Divas Derby will keep you occupied through April 14. Or not. Like life down under in Dallas, it moves pretty slowly.DallasDivas


It’s not quite natural selection. These two popularity contests are playing out on Facebook, where you simply “Like” the picture of the species you prefer. Trash-talking takes place in the comments sections.

4. You’d think there’d be more kittehs at odds in the cybersphere, but drooling dogs drool in NatGeo Wild’s “Doggie Breed Bracket,” licensed by Cesar Millan of “Cesar 911.” This inaugural struggle is pretty much an ad for his show.


5. Anyone who knows or reads me knows I’ve plugged Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” before. But someone over there finally listened to my complaints: In previous years, organizers picked birds who don’t actually migrate. This year, there are nifty baseball cards detailing the birds’ feats. Visit today for a chance to vote in the “Airborne 8” round between this year’s vastly popular snowy owl and the spectacular painted bunting.


6. OK, OK. I found a bracket featuring cats. But it’s something you need to register for, and we all learned our lesson with the Warren Buffett-Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket, did we not?  A glimpse of Apartment Therapy’s Pet Madness entrants, just to satisfy you rabid pet owners.



7. Sweet! This is just a sampler of what’s out there.  Foodsided.com’s “Starch Madness” will surely whet the appetite. In fact, this game can be played alongside the NCAA tourney. Spread out a spread of these and watch your points spread. Recent highlights from the blog:

  • In the Entree Region, an epic battle of cheese. 4-seed Grilled Cheese takes on upstart 5-seed Mac & Cheese, who is coming off a decisive, yet somewhat unexpected, Round One victory over Boneless Wings.

  • After years of being paired together in perfect harmony, Peanut Butter and Chocolate will face off as Peanut Butter Anything takes on Chocolate Cake in the 4/5 match-up in the Dessert Region.

Starch madness8. Somebody alert Chris Christie. The Trentonian is sponsoring an eat-off among New Jersey pizzerias. This one requires some insider knowledge. You wonder if it’s helping to boost the newspaper’s restaurant ad sales.



9. That last one was touristy, but no one can trump The Washington Post‘s“Monuments Madness” for places that “place.” This civil civics war features 15 statues and one obelisk. The Elite 8 begins today, and a champion will be crowned on April 1. Which begs the question … why?monumental

Sheer madness.

P.S. Go, Spartans.basketball_data







Locker rooms’ loo-HOO-ser ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ code

JasonCollinsIt’s not shocking NBA free agent Jason Collins is the first active athlete in U.S. sports’ Big Four (basketball, football, baseball, hockey) to come out as gay. What’s shocking is that it has taken so long for such a “first.”

Apparently there is some unwritten “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in men’s locker rooms. Why else would this even make news today?

Seems to me that women are less hung up over the idea of sharing showers with potential lesbians. I guess we innately understand that gay people are no more or less predatory than any other people.

On the modesty vs. exhibitionism spectrum, everyone is unique. No generalizations can be made based on sexual orientation whether we are more or less comfortable being ogled or ogling others in a dressing-room situation. And no doubt we ALL look. It’s human to admire the human form. I’m thinking that athletes, though, of all people, are far more accustomed to group nudity and should be more comfortable with it than the average person, given their well-toned physiques — maybe even proud of their nakedness or a bit obsessed. I would expect they even strut. Not to mention, they’re strong and could certainly handle any unwanted advances, if any ever were made.

So why would this institution, of all institutions, be so stupidly prejudicial against someone who might admire them in a slightly different, more responsive or even effusive way?

And I say might, because it probably doesn’t happen often. In any professional arena, whether medicine, theater or sports, a professional knows how to erect that fourth wall and tamp down any inappropriate responses or behavior, no matter how the brain’s arousal radar behaves. Think gynecology, ladies. Do we have qualms about the sexual orientation of our OB-GYN, or what his/her intentions or ulterior motives are? Such issues rarely come into play. Even a professional sex worker is but acting.

Why would a professional athlete cross the line of propriety? They are the most physically disciplined of us all.

So it’s about time this ridiculous wall of prejudice — or whatever is causing the heebie-jeebies among these big-baby male athletes — comes crumbling down.

Bravo, Jason Collins, bravo. Now the question is: Which NBA team shall proudly scoop him up?


Lance Armstrong’s slap on the wristbands

I’m holding out for a hero.

What makes me hurl about Lance Armstrong’s downfall isn’t so much his marathon hypocrisy, or even the generations of wristbands bearing false witness to nobility.It’s that few are talking about the runners-up, the also-rans, those possibly squeaky-clean cyclists in his wake who were cheated of glory. As Armstrong gets stripped of his trophies and titles, shouldn’t we be adorning someone else with his sloppy-second laurels?

You argue: They were all probably doping to get where they got. It was a culture of cheating. Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, vows to blot out not just Armstrong’s record but the entire field of competition by negating seven years of  championship races from 1999-2005. Like it never happened.

This seems a classic sweep-it-under-the-rug response. Can’t we try a little harder to boost my spirits and prove performance-boosting doesn’t run so rampant? Bloomberg has reported, indeed, that of the handful of cyclists who stand to inherit Armstrong’s tainted spots in history, three of them drip in doping scandals of their own.

I wanted to believe Lance Armstrong was superhuman. We all did. I mean, just look at him.

We thought Lance Armstrong — an anti-hero despite the superhero name — knew no bounds. Rather, he knew no rules. And oh, snap! What about all those souls inspired to wear his Livestrong wristbands; maybe their good works can cancel out his bad.

But I need a hero. And not just a woe-is-me whistle-blower like Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service teammate Dave Zabriskie, whose testimony propelled the International Cycling Union (UCI) into doing the right thing. Yeah, OK, pat on the head, nice to see the conscience-raising.

A rhinoceros beetle grub. I’m told these mealy things make fine meals for the pygmies in the Congo — that children will stand around a tree waiting for someone to burst it open like a piñata, so they can collect handfuls and take them home to be cooked.

C’mon, sports is about being in awe. I want some AWE-SOME now. Let’s dig deep and elevate a story about some lone cyclist who had to wrist-band his bike together as a poor kid in the Congo and subsist on rhinoceros beetle grubs, who fell down a lot, maybe lost a limb, but got back up. I don’t know. You tell me. I know nothing about cycling. I know little about sports, as you can probably infer.

But this doping debacle has suddenly gotten personal. It’s the U.S. team, and that’s us. And it’s getting to be where there’s a hall of shame in every sport. Baseball’s Barry Bonds-men. My New Orleans (non-)Saints. I’ve even read (Googled, just now) charges about  basketball games being thrown — for money! (yeah, this happens in soccer all the time, but the NBA?)

Not to sound naive. But why does competition lately seem to bring out the worst in us? Including politics, which has been reduced to keeping score and gaming the system. Is there no end to the lengths we’ll go to win, win, WIN?

It’s no wonder I prefer art over athletics. There’s no disputing its awesomeness, even when there are tricks at play.

So, until someone can show me an honest, high-achieving athlete, this guy, below, gets my vote for greatest cyclist EVER, for elevating athleticism to an art form. Give Danny Macaskill some of that Lance Armstrong money for his mad skills.

Human-side economics: Fairness at play

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for capitalizing on a good idea. The person who invented Post-its -— NOT Romy or Michele from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, although Lisa Kudrow‘s character makes a darn compelling case, below, that it could have been anyone — well, that person should profit from his genius and good business sense. (See previous post “Scotch Tape, Post-Its and the stickiest problem yet.”)

Where then does our capitalist system fail? It’s in this concept of one’s “fair share.”

Movies teach us a lot. Take the new all-American baseball biopic Moneyball; and if you haven’t yet seen it, you must.

Spoiler alert: You should probably run see it before finishing reading this post.

Moneyball shows us how Ivy League economics and a few scraps helped turn around a tanking baseball team. Formulas alone, though, wouldn’t work. Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, had to factor in some human chemistry to help define his success. His decisions weren’t always “winning” ones, but they were the right ones. He rejected a $12.5 million salary, for instance, on the basis he already had what he needed — or he knew the salary wouldn’t help him achieve what he wanted.

As a cog in the news business, I recently earned a 2.49% raise, after a straight record of “superior” performance ratings and two (or was it three?) years of pay freezes, forced furloughs and rising health care costs. You think they could have squeezed out one more hundredth or a percentage for a round 2.5%. Musta been based on some cold calculation to not upset someone else’s chock-full apple cart. No doubt those in the company’s upper echelons still managed six-figure bonuses on top of plump salaries during these lean times.

Is this fair? Of course, the answer is “above my pay grade.”

I’m not complaining, as I am thankful to have a job. But it seems to me the problem with our system is we get saturated at the top, with very little trickle-down action.

I’m not saying the people at the top are all villains — they were human once, too, ha. And those “bean-counters” in the Oakland A’s front office with Billy Beane merely were saturated, stuck in their ways. They lacked the vision and drive he had. You gotta be a little hungry for that kinda magic.

I never set out this morning to write about this sticky wicket, or Scotch Tape or Post-its. I merely looked up the year 1925 doing other research and found what I thought was an interesting story about men with ideas — the human story behind economics.

Although I don’t advocate the Saudi way of doing things, it’s interesting how Saudi Arabia spreads its oil wealth among its citizens. Not unlike Alaska. If every businessman and -woman made decisions based on the human element, or at least evaluated things on the basis of what role his/her product and business plays in people’s lives, always remembering where s/he came from, and the legitimacy of those who work and those who COULD work for them, maybe more of us could benefit — not to the point of saturation, but at least on the cusp of fulfillment, with evenly distributed pangs of hunger driving our economy.

In other words, the perfect capitalist system would work better applied imperfectly, with some take-and-give.