College sports is a totally American phenomenon, none more so than March Madness the culmination of the college basketball season. 65 teams begin the series which takes place in different brackets in different cities over three weekends.
In America, college sports are normally dominated by the large, well funded, make that rich, schools that compete for the best athletes when frankly academe doesn't come into to it. On the flip side college sport is adored by Americans because it carries none of the professional razzmatazz, egos or obscene wages.
The two most watched college sports are basketball and (American) football, although you could wile away the hours quite happily watching a very decent tennis match or soccer game. I learnt in my time in Chicago, and it manifested itself pretty quickly, that in college sports, particularly for those playing basketball and (American) football, it is all about raw ambition, wearing your school colours with pride, making history and that very, very slim one in a million chance of perhaps earning a professional contract.
Unlike the U16's pony-trekking schools cup in the Highlands, the NCAA's College Basketball Championship
is one of the year's most watched television events and on Saturday Butler, Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia contest the semi-finals with the winners tipping off on Monday for the final with the whole event taking place at the Lucas Oil Stadium
in Indianapolis in front of 70,000 people, yes 70,000 people to watch kids bounce a ball around.
When it comes to college football my heart will always be with University of Wisconsin
because it was in Madison
that I lost quite a few hours of my life but gained a lifetime of friends, but for basketball one of my best mates in Chicago convinced me to adopt a little known university in Indiana called Butler
. A small but proud 150-year old liberal arts school with a very decent soccer team (I used to play with a few graduates), so I was in.
The Butler Bulldogs play basketball in one of the oldest arena's in the country and is actually a designated national landmark. And I like this fact a lot, a bit like the glorious Valley, it was once the largest basketball arena in the United States, and it retained that distinction until 1950. A fact not really known outside of the Hinkle Fieldhouse
, but something that every Bulldog is proud off.
The film Hoosiers
, the ultimate feel-good basketball movie starring Gene Hackman was filmed at Hinkle Fieldhouse and on Saturday 6 miles down the road from their very own school Butler will be hoping to create Hoosiers 2. Michigan State
, Butler's opponents in Saturday's semi-final is gigantic by comparison and has 50,000 students to pick five players from. How hard is that?
The other semi-finalists are Duke
, which is one of the best basketball universities in America (apparently you can study nursing there as well) and West Virginia
, a public-research university (quite), with a set of unruly fans and 30,000 students. Pah to the big boys.
To add a little more spice to the occassion Butler are the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play a Final Four in their hometown although it is very unlikely that many of the 4,000 students will be able to get tickets. Tickets that are as hot as a basketball court sized-pile of hot cross buns.
But, I could have had a ticket. yep, got offered one by a friend going from Bermuda, however in my new found life, flying to Indiana for four days of drinking over Easter just does not cut it anymore. But I will be in front of the box texting my mates and cheering those proud Bulldogs on.
We'll sing the Butler war song
We'll give a fighting cry
We'll fight the Butler battle
Bulldogs ever do or die.
And in the glow of the victory firelight
Hist'ry cannot deny
To add a page or two
For Butler's fighting crew
Beneath the Hoosier sky