Race and Basketball in the New York Times

Race and basketball in America are inextricably linked. Of the four (or five) major sports leagues in the United States, the NBA is the most predominantly black league. This past weekend was the NBA All-Star game, a festivity that two of my favorite NBA writers, David Aldridge and Michael Wilbon, got in trouble for calling “Black Thanksgiving” several years ago. (Side note, the quoted comments from fans in that article from look eerily like Trump-era attacks on CNN). By any measure, one of the most famous movies about basketball is about a white con-man who plays off racial assumptions to scam people in two-on-two basketball games. Entitled White Men Can’t Jump, this movie provided the inspiration for the headline of a recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review about race and basketball that was so misguided it pulled me out of my grad school hiatus from writing this blog.

The article, “Even When White Men Can Jump…” is written by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist and author. In it, he presents an interesting analysis he worked on, determining the percent breakdown of NBA player fanbases by race based on Facebook data. The data show two things: that fans tend to root for players of their own race and that black players of similar ability to white, hispanic, or asian players tend to be more popular.

This is a clever investigation and we are indebted to Stephens-Davidowitz for performing it. Unfortunately, in two places, his racial analysis leaves a lot unsaid, to the point of being misleading. Early in the article, Stephens-Davidowitz attempts to explain the historical context of his experiment:

This is a long-debated question. For years, owners were accused of padding their benches with white players to increase a team’s fan base. The implicit assumption: If you are white, you will have more fans.

While it is certainly true that “owners were accused of padding their benches with white players,” the implicit assumption is too generous to basketball fans of the 1970s and 80s, the era most associated with this tactic. The assumption was not that individual white players were more popular, it was that fans would not stand for teams made up completely of black players. To simply say that owners padded their teams with white players because they were more popular makes it sound like a marginal consideration; that teams could increase their popularity a little by hiring white players. In reality, teams worried that fans would completely stop watching unless they hired a quota of white players regardless of skill. This is a much more harsh interpretation that assumes widespread racism. In support of this claim, look to a 1979 Sports Illustrated article, “There’s an Ill Wind Blowing For the NBA” or “‘Too Black’: Race in the “Dark Ages” of the NationalBasketball Association” in the 2010 edition of The International Journal of Sport and Society. It’s also important to think about where this issue of the 1970s and 80s came from. During the 1950s the rules, written and unwritten around race in basketball were much harsher. According to David Kamp in his GQ article, “Only the Ball was Brown,” in the NBA there was an “unofficial quota on blacks in the late ’50s, allowing no more than two or three per team.” In college basketball, things were worse with institutions agreeing to “gentlemen’s rules” prohibiting the recruitment of black athletes. As with most things in college sports, fans and their rabid, rich counterparts called boosters, played a big role in enforcing these unwritten rules.

If the history of race and basketball is more pernicious than Stephens-Davidowitz makes it out to be, so is its present. Stephens-Davidowitz finishes his article with the rosy conclusion that the racial slant to NBA fandom is a refreshing change from the opposite tilt toward white privilege found in the rest of society. I’m all for rosy interpretations, especially in this political era, but it seems like a disservice not to also mention the quite well known trap of black popularity when confined to particular areas. In every fan who contests that “white men can’t jump” or play basketball as well as black athletes, there’s an overtone which states, “basketball (and music and acting) are all black people can be successful at.” Disproportionate adulation in one area can just as easily be seen as enforcing white privilege as lacking it.

Stephens-Davidowitz has produced rich data about race and the NBA but it needs more analysis from a cultural and historical angle.

What is field goal range? How is field goal distance measured?

Dear Sports Fan,

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about. When I watch a football game, I often hear the announcer talk about a team being “in field goal range.” Sometimes they even superimpose a colored line on the field to show how close a team is to being in field goal range. When they talk about the distance of a field goal though, it doesn’t directly correspond to the yard market the team is on, which is very confusing. What is field goal range? How is field goal distance measured?


Dear Ron,

As a sport and a culture, football sits at the intersection between precision and chaos. There’s no sport whose plays are more carefully and complexly designed and there’s few sports whose action can become as chaotic, as quickly. Football culture glorifies precision even while success and failure often come down to luck. Field goal distance and field goal range are both measurements which seem very exact but are actually quite wishy-washy. Field goal distance purports to be a measurement of the distance between where a field goal is kicked and the goal posts the kicker is aiming at. It is expressed as a number of yards. Field goal range is a similar measurement but is hypothetical. It is the distance from goal that a team believes it can score a field goal from with a reasonable chance of success. In this post, we’ll break both of these measurements down and see how inexact they actually are.

For both of these measurements, the number quoted will not match up to the yard marker on the field. The NFL moved the uprights from where they had been, on the goal line (as one might expect from the name!) in 1974 to the back of the end zone. The end zone is ten yards deep. So, a field goal kicked from the 20 yard line is actually called a 30 yard field goal because it must travel that extra distance through the end zone. A team cannot kick a 30 yard field goal from a play that starts on the 20 yard line. In order to have time and space to kick the ball over a horde of defenders intent on blocking it, teams snap the ball backwards about seven yards before setting the ball up to be kicked. Add these seven yards to the 10 yards from the end zone and you get 17 yards, the standard figure which people talking about football add to the yard marker of the start of a play in order to get the field goal distance. So, a 30 yard field goal must be taken from the 13 yard line. A field goal kicked from a play starting on the 20 yard line is actually a 37 yard kick.

Field goal distance seems like it should therefore be an exact measurement. Add seventeen yards to where the play starts and BOOM! you’ve got an exact distance. Two considerations stop this from being true. First, there may be some variation from kicker to kicker and team to team about how far back from the line of scrimmage a kick should be set up. It’s hard for me to believe that all 32 kickers in the NFL and 200+ kickers in college all like to kick from exactly the same spot relative to the line of scrimmage. I’ve never heard an announcer take the preference of a kicker into account when calculating a field goal distance, but perhaps they should. The second is much more meaningful. Football fields are not one-dimensional! Depending on where you are side to side on the field, a field goal may need to be struck at an angle or straight on. A play in football can start from one of three places horizontally, the center, or either of the two hash mark lines that run up and down the field to the right and left of center. Kicks from the center of the field are shorter than those from the sides. This effect is magnified in college football where the hash marks are much farther apart than in the NFL. Field goal distance does not take either of these factors into account. It’s a slightly fuzzy measurement masquerading as an exact one.

Field goal range is even fuzzier. It’s an estimate of the field goal distance a kicker has a reasonable chance of success and scoring from. A kicker with a very strong leg may have a field goal range of around 50 yards. Anything over that and the chance of scoring falls to below 60%. Estimates are great! There’s nothing wrong with estimates. But football, or at least football TV announcers, in an obsession with precision simultaneously treat this estimate as if it’s an exact number and leave out an important factor. The factor they leave out is the 60% in our example. Announcers talk about field goal range as if it’s the distance from which a kicker will be able to score. It’s not! There’s no distance from which you can absolutely guarantee a kicker will score. It’s important to know what percent chance field goal range applies to. Or maybe we should talk about it as several ranges — 50-55 yards is a long-shot, 10-20% chance of scoring, 45-50 gives a 40% chance of scoring, and so on. Meanwhile, television executives treat a range like a number and superimposes a line across the field to show how far a team needs to advance the ball to be “in field goal range.” A better graphic would surely be a gradient to show the increasing chance of scoring as the team moves forward, wouldn’t it?

I guess that turned into a rant on top of a definition! Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Why was Carl Yastrzemski wearing an Iowa Hawkeyes shirt?

Dear Sports Fan,

At the ceremony to retire Pedro Martinez’ number, Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) was wearing an Iowa Hawkeyes football shirt. Does anyone know why? Does he have grandchildren at Iowa? Google failed me on this one.


Dear Stephanie,

It’s rare that any of us gets to beat Google but I think I just did that. Carl Yastrzemski was wearing an Iowa Hawkeyes shirt under his blazer because he is close friends with the father of an Iowa Hawkeyes assistant football coach. The coach is Chris White. He coaches the running backs and special teams. As he explained on Twitter, his Dad played baseball with Yaz when they were both college kids at Notre Dame and play golf frequently today:

Will this become a pattern? Maybe if Coach White has his way. He is apparently going to send Yaz more Iowa clothing to wear.

I hope this explains the connection. Thanks to Tim Kluender for answering my investigatory Tweet. Here’s our conversation. You should follow him for all your Iowa Hawkeyes and Kansas City Royals needs.


Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

How does the men's college baseball World Series work?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why doesn’t anyone watch men’s college baseball? I think it’s because the format of their tournament is impossible to understand. I might watch it if I understood how it works. Could you tell me? How does the men’s college baseball World Series work?


Dear Stacy,

Men’s college baseball often gets a bad rap. This is partially because professional baseball has an extensive minor league system that snaps up many of the future professional baseball players before they hit college. Losing these players robs college baseball of the air of elite competition that college football and basketball still have. Another factor certainly is persistent slight confusion around how a championship team is determined. The men’s college World Series follows a more complex format than most competitions we’re used to watching, but it’s not beyond our understanding by any means. Here’s how it works.

The tournament begins, like March Madness, the college basketball tournament does, with 64 teams. In the baseball championship, these teams are split into 16 groups of four teams each. These groups of four teams will play each other until one can be identified as the winner of the group. That team moves on to the next round of the tournament. This round, with 64 teams is called the Regional. The next round, with only 16 teams is called the Super Regional. Although groups of four are reminiscent of the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup in soccer, there are two major differences. Instead of two or three teams advancing from the group of four, as in the World Cup, only one team advances. Also, the format of competition is different. Instead of a round robing, where each team plays the others once, this part of the college baseball championships are played as a double elimination tournament.

The principle of double-elimination is simple. The teams play each other until every team but one has lost twice. As teams accrue their second defeats, they are eliminated from the tournament. Pretty easy, right? The only tricky part is how to decide who plays who. Within each group, the four teams are ranked or seeded from one to four. This allows the succeeding games to be played out formulaically.

  • Game 1: Team 1 plays Team 4
  • Game 2: Team 2 plays Team 3
  • Game 3: The winner of Game 1 plays the winner of Game 2
  • Game 4: The loser of Game 1 plays the loser of Game 2
  • Game 5: The loser of Game 3 plays the winner of Game 4
  • Game 6: The winner of Game 3 plays the winner of Game 5. Note that at this point, the winner of Game 3 is, by definition, undefeated. They won the first game they played — either Game 1 or Game 2 — and then won the matchup between themselves and the winner of the other of the first two games. Their opponent in this game has to have lost a single game before. In order to play in and win Game 5 to qualify for this game, they would have had to either lose Game 1 or 2 (and win Game 4) or lose Game 3. That’s all just a complicated way to say that this game, Game 6 is between a team with one loss and a team with zero losses. If the team that comes into this game with one loss, loses, then the regional is over. Every team will have lost two games. If they win, then both teams involved will only have one loss and another game, Game 7, must be played to decide who advances.
  • Game 7: The same two teams as Game 6, if needed to decide a regional champion.

For bonus confusion, seeing “Game 7, if needed” triggers thoughts in a sports fan’s mind of a best-four-out-of-seven series. This is the most common playoff format, used in professional baseball, hockey, and basketball. In that format, Game 7s may not be needed if one team beats the other four times in the first four, five, or six games. That’s why you’ll also see “Game 5, if needed” or “Game 6, if needed) in those sports. Never in college baseball’s regionals — in the double elimination format within groups of four teams, only the seventh game is dependent on earlier results to be necessary. The first six will always be played.

After the Regional round, the teams advance to the Super Regionals. In the Super Regionals, the 16 remaining teams are grouped into pairings of two teams each. These pairings are pre-set before the tournament, the winner of Group A will play the winner of Group B, no matter who those winners are. Within each pairing, the teams play a best-two-out-of-three series. In a sense, this is still a double elimination format, but it’s not unusual in the way the Regional round format was. Best-two-out-of-three is easily understood. It’s how many people settled sibling or friendly disputes as kids, with rock-paper-scissors or odds and evens.

The Super Regional best-two-out-of-three series get the field from 16 to eight teams. From there, the tournament enters the College World Series. This eight team tournament within a tournament follows the same pattern as the last two rounds, just with fewer teams. First, the eight teams are split into two groups of four. Within those groups, the teams play a double-elimination tournament like they did in the Regional round above. Once this is done, six more teams (three in each group of four) will have been eliminated. The remaining two teams face each other in a best-two-out-of-three game series to crown an overall men’s college World Series champion.

This year, 2015, those two teams are Virginia and Vanderbilt — the same two teams as last year. The series starts tonight, Monday, June 22 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. Game 2 will be Tuesday at the same time and channel and Game Three (if needed) will be on Wednesday at the same time and channel. Last year, Vanderbilt won the first game 9-8, lost the second 2-7, but won the third and deciding game, 3-2 to become the 2014 champion. Only time will tell if they can repeat or if Virginia will take their revenge.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

March Madness Final Four Previews, April 4, 2015

I know, I know, it’s not even March anymore. How can it still be March Madness? Truth be told, aside from the very first day of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it hasn’t been very mad at all. There have been relatively few major upsets and this is reflected in today’s two games between the last four teams remaining. Of the four teams remaining, three are 1 seeds, which means the committee that selected teams for the tournament and ranked them before the tournament began accurately predicted three of the four best teams. The only surprise, 7 seed Michigan State, is only kind of a surprise. Although they weren’t predicted to do this well this year, their coach and program has an incredibly strong recent history of success. For some reason beyond my comprehension, these games — as exciting and high profile as they are

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Michigan State Spartans vs. #1 Duke Blue Devils, 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS.

This game is definitely the undercard or less anticipated game of the two. This is mostly because it doesn’t feature Kentucky, the team that virtually every narrative in this tournament is focused on. Putting narratives aside for a minute though, this is a very attractive basketball game. Duke has the most polished offensive big man in the game this year, a player named Jahlil Okafor who is likely to be the first overall draft pick in the NBA this coming year. Watch for him — he’s the enormous dude who wears number 15 – when he gets the ball near the basket. He’s surprisingly graceful for someone who is 6’10” and 270 lbs at age 19. One of the most effective motivations for a sports team to over-achieve seems to be the sense that the world did or does not believe they can succeed. Michigan State has gleefully taken up that mantle and, because they were given a relatively poor 7 seed for this tournament, it fits to a degree. Michigan’s coach, Tom Izzo, is well-known for being able to whip together some tactics that will work to counter-act whatever the opposing team does best. If Michigan State has a chance in this game, it’s because coach Izzo will be able to outsmart Duke’s coach. The problem with that is that Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is the most well-respected coach in college basketball. Duke has the clear edge in this game but not by enough to make it worth skipping.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #1 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #1 Kentucky Wildcats, 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS.

All roads lead to Kentucky in this tournament. They are two wins (this game and the finals on Monday) away from completing the first undefeated season for a men’s college basketball team since 1976. (The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has had four undefeated seasons since then including a streak of 90 straight games which included two complete undefeated seasons and championships in 2008/9 and 2009/10.) The primary fascination for this tournament revolves around whether or not Kentucky will be able to complete the undefeated season and win the championship. To do that, they’ll need to beat a Wisconsin team that’s had it out for them since Kentucky eliminated them from March Madness last year. That’s right — these two teams played last year in the Final Four as well. In that game, Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 on a last second three-point shot. By most accounts, these two teams are both better this year than they were last year, so this should be a heck of a game. I’m looking forward to it!

March Madness Previews, March 29, 2015

We’re down to these four teams fighting for two spots in next Saturday’s Final Four games. Last night, Kentucky and Wisconsin, two 1 seeds, won their games and qualified to play each other in the Final Four. Today we’ll see which two teams will play each other next Saturday for the right to play either Kentucky or Wisconsin in the championship game.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Michigan State Spartans vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals, 2:20 p.m. ET on CBS.

Hey! This is our one chance — actually our one certainty — to get a team into the Final Four that wasn’t a 1 seed and therefore expected to make the Final Four. Usually, the team that unexpectedly makes it into the last four is the delight of the tournament but this is… a little different. It’s hard to think of either Michigan State or Louisville as a surprise underdog considering they’ve combined to make 11 Final Fours since 2000. That’s a sustained record of excellence unsurpassed by many programs. So, while it’s novel to see a 7 and a 4 seed play in the Elite Eight, it’s perfectly conventional to see these two teams.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #2 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #1 Duke Blue Devils, 5:05 p.m. ET on CBS.

You can view this game as a battle of old vs. new, traditional vs. modern. Duke is the traditional team — they’ve been a basketball powerhouse in one of the toughest conferences in the country for well over thirty years now. They’re built a little like an old-school team. Their star player is a big man, Jahlil Okafor, who plays close to the basket. Gonzaga is the future of basketball. They’re a “mid-major” team which means they’re the best team in a conference that has not traditionally produced NCAA Champions. Their best player is Kyle Wiltjer, a 6’10” forward who uses his hight primarily to shoot over people from distance as opposed to banging bodies down low like Okafor. In this battle of past vs. future, we’ll see who owns the present.

March Madness Previews, March 28, 2015

And then there were eight; eight teams left in March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. There haven’t been many surprises in this year’s tournament so far, which itself, I guess could be considered a surprise. If every favorite had won, all the way through the tournament, tonight’s games would only differ by a single team. By the rankings, one would expect #2 Kansas to be playing Kentucky instead of #3 Notre Dame. Not exactly an upset of mammoth proportions. The downside of not having any giant surprises is that there aren’t attractive underdogs to root for. The upside is that the games are likely to be extremely close contests — and the best play that college basketball can provide for our enjoyment. Here is a little background about each game.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #2 Arizona Wildcats vs. #1 Wisconsin Badgers, 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS.

Many people believe that these are the two teams most equipped to truly have a chance at beating the still undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. To some extent then, it’s a shame that they play each other before meeting Kentucky. It means that only one will get a shot at the presumptive champs. On the other hand, the winner of this game will play the winner of the next game, and assuming that is Kentucky, at least it means that one of them are guaranteed to play Kentucky. This game itself could be one of the best in the tournament. Both teams are game tested, having survived close games in the previous round, and both have deep casts of excellent basketball players.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. #1 Kentucky Wildcats, 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS.

We’re all assuming Kentucky will win this game. After doubling their opponent in the last round (poor West Virginia lost 78-39!) Kentucky looks completely unbeatable. That said, the only thing they aren’t that good at (shooting three-point shots), Notre Dame is devilishly competent in. If Notre Dame gets off to the kind of fast start that they have in other games this year, when every shot they take seems to be just falling into the basket, then we could be in for a tight game.

March Madness Previews, March 27, 2015

Tonight is the second night of the Sweet Sixteen. The Sweet Sixteen is where the NCAA Tournament transitions from strictly numbered rounds (“the round of 64/32” or “the first/second/third round”) to rounds with catchy nicknames. The Sweet Sixteen reduces the field from 16 teams to 8, the Elite Eight winnows it down from eight to four, those four are referred to as the Final Four, and the two teams that win those games go on to play each other in the Championship game. The four games on tonight represent half of the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s run through these games and see what they mean.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #11 UCLA Bruins vs. #2 Gonzaga Bulldogs, 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS.

With two 1 seeds, a 2 seed, and a 3 seed advancing in yesterday’s games, the 11th seeded UCLA Bruins seem like they’d be the tournament’s last hope for the type of unlikely Cinderella story that everyone loves. The problem is, as I’ve written before, that UCLA is an overdog disguised as an underdog. UCLA men’s basketball has had too much success to ever really engender the kind of “it could be anyone” love that lower seeded teams sometimes do during March Madness. Gonzaga, on the other hand, is what happens when Cinderella wins and wins and wins until she’s not really an underdog anymore either.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #8 North Carolina State Wolfpack vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals, 7:37 p.m. ET on TBS.

Although ranked higher than UCLA, North Carolina State has more underdog cred. They’re certainly an afterthought in their own state, behind giants North Carolina and Duke. After beating number one seed, Villanova, last week, they’ll be ready to take on the confrontational but not insanely talented Louisville team.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #5 Utah Runnin’ Utes vs. #1 Duke Blue Devils, 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS.

One of the ways I suggested filling out your March Madness bracket before the tournament started was by looking at other people’s rankings, often done with the collaboration (or at least assistance) of a computer. Most of these rankings absolutely loved the Utah team — enough so that CBS wrote of this game that the rankings suggest it will be a very even game. That said, it will still feel like a triumphant upset if Utah can beat Duke. Duke is not as deep in talented players as Kentucky but they’re best five players are the closest thing out there to Kentucky’s.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Michigan State Spartans vs. #3 Oklahoma Sooners, 10:07 p.m. ET on TBS.

Michigan State has gotten at least this far in the NCAA Tournament is six of the last seven years. They’re institutionally good! Vegas actually has Michigan State as a very slight favorite (less than two points) to beak Oklahoma. This game and the Utah Duke game seem like the best of the bunch tonight, so if you need to approach the evening strategically (either to carve out time for basketball or from basketball) there’s a strong case to be made to do something else early on in the night and switch your attention to basketball starting around 9:45. Good luck!

March Madness Previews, March 26, 2015

Tonight is the first night of the Sweet Sixteen. The Sweet Sixteen is where the NCAA Tournament transitions from strictly numbered rounds (“the round of 64/32” or “the first/second/third round”) to rounds with catchy nicknames. The Sweet Sixteen reduces the field from 16 teams to 8, the Elite Eight winnows it down from eight to four, those four are referred to as the Final Four, and the two teams that win those games go on to play each other in the Championship game. The four games on tonight represent half of the Sweet Sixteen. The other four games will be tomorrow. For now, let’s run through these games and see what they mean.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Wichita State Shockers vs. #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS.

When a 7 seed beats a 2 seed, like Wichita State did to Kansas in the last round, the standard narrative would be to view them as a surprise, Cindarella-like team. It’s hard to view Wichita State that way though because of their recent history of success. Two years ago they went to the Final Four and last year they were a 1 seed that lost only to the eventual runners-up, Kentucky. Wichita State is not an underdog but they’re also not unworthy of support. As a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, they still represent college basketball’s sympathetic second tier in a way that Notre Dame never could. Unless you’re a Notre Dame fan, I suggest throwing your support behind the Shockers.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #4 North Carolina Tarheels vs. #1 Wisconsin Badgers, 7:47 p.m. ET on TBS.

Wisconsin became my (and lots of other people’s) favorite team in the tournament this year when the team’s fascination with short-hand became public last week. That’s right, after their win last weekend, what seems like a majority of their press conference was focused on the team’s interest in the stenographer who was transcribing it. Nigel Hayes, a 6’8″ power forward, even sprinkled his answers with complicated and unexpected vocabulary words just to make things more interesting for her:

That’s enough for me — I’m now rooting for the Badgers to make it all the way to the Championship game.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #5 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #1 Kentucky Wildcats, 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS.

Everything in the tournament, even the stenography obsession, is just a side-show to the ongoing saga of the Kentucky Wildcats. They’re undefeated and looking to become the first team to go through the entire season and win the championship without losing a game since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. There are only a few teams out there who are talented enough to challenge the Wildcats. The West Virginia Mountaineers are not one of those teams but they may be crazy enough to think they are and tough enough to have a shot despite their difference in talent.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #6 Xavier Musketeers vs. #2 Arizona Wildcats, 10:17 p.m. ET on TBS.

Arizona is one of the few teams with talent enough to match up against Kentucky. That should give them more than enough class to get past the Xavier Musketeers tonight. The best character on either of the teams is a senior center on Xavier named Matt Stainbrook who gave up his scholarship to his little brother, Tim, who is also on the team. The elder Stainbrook has been making some extra cash in his free time as the world’s largest (I’m guessing) Uber driver.

How March Madness and the NFL have switched places

Once upon a time — not so long ago — sports fans watched professional football and college basketball on television. That may not sound so different from today, but before the internet took over the world the way we were presented with these two sports was just a little bit different.

In the past, if you wanted to watch March Madness, you tuned your television to CBS. There it would stay, from around noon on the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament until whenever the nets got cut down in celebration… or you ran out of beer… or had to eat. There was no channel hopping. All the games were on CBS, even if not all the games were televised since many of them overlap in time. The people who ran CBS would pick what they thought the best game would be and go with that. As the day went on, they reserved the right to switch from one game to another if the other was more exciting. As games neared their end, sometimes simultaneously, this resulted in a frantic back-and-forth telecast, that at its best was more exciting than watching a single game. Certainly part of what made March Madness so great — and specifically the first round of March Madness with its 32 games in 48 hours so great — was its overlapping, buzzer-beater-every-fifteen-minutes, relentless nature.

If you wanted to watch professional football, you had lots of options each Sunday during the fall, but they were heavily constrained by where you lived. Over the years, games were televised on every major broadcast network, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, plus cable channels like TNT and ESPN. Games were on at 1 p.m. ET and 4:30 p.m. ET every Sunday — usually about seven games at the earlier time and three or four in the later time-slot. The thing was, you only got access to one or sometimes two games at a time. No matter how bad the local team (and if you didn’t have a local team, you were assigned one) was, when they played that was the only game you could watch. When the local team was idle, the networks decided what game you had access to based on what they thought of the game and your geography.

Then, in 2009, everything changed for football viewers. The NFL launched a new cable channel called the NFL RedZone. From 1 p.m. ET to whenever the last 4:30 p.m. ET game ended, usually around 7:30 or 8 p.m. ET, the RedZone would show football, all the football, and nothing but the football. With one brilliant studio host, the RedZone captivated its audience, by steering them from game to game based on how exciting the game was; making sure they saw every score and almost every meaningful play. Watching the RedZone was an amazing experience and despite its ability to leave your brain spinning and your eyes aching, it was and still is incredibly popular. It changed the way people watch football. No more were they trapped watching a boring local game — no more were they even trapped watching a single game. The RedZone captured the exhilaration of those few frantic minutes of buzzer beaters in a March Madness broadcast and translated it to football viewers every Sunday.

Meanwhile, things were also changing in the world of college basketball. One of the tricky elements of March Madness for sports fans had always been how to watch the first round, given that much of it happened between noon and the end of work on a Thursday and Friday. In many offices, this meant widespread breakouts of bronchitis or ludicrously long lunch meetings. At some point though, some brilliant person at CBS realized that what most people have at work was not a television but a computer. CBS started streaming the games over the internet. Aside from the fact that early on, most places didn’t have the bandwidth to handle the sudden influx of people trying to stream video, the shift to internet created one vital difference in how people consumed March Madness: the curated channel experience that jumped the viewer from game to game was gone. In its place was a simple interface for you to choose which game you wanted to watch. Watching a blow-out? Want to check in on the other game? It was only a click (and usually the required viewing of an advertisement) away.

Within a couple years of this innovation, CBS made a similar shift in its television coverage. In 2010, CBS was forced to renegotiate their agreement with the NCAA to cover March Madness and as part of that negotiation, they agreed to share the rights with Turner Broadcasting System. Instead of using one channel to cover multiple games, they now used multiple channels simultaneously. When games overlapped, they were simply televised on different channels: CBS and TNT, TBS, or TruTV. The television experience now mimicked the online experience. The games were all available but you had to manage your experience by flipping from one game to another yourself.

These parallel evolutions in how professional football and the NCAA Basketball Tournament are presented to viewers each have their benefits and their disadvantages. Critics of the RedZone channel would say that the pace and narrative consistency of watching one football game at a time has been lost; that people no longer care about what team wins, just about individual plays and players. Proponents of the RedZone may point out that old-fashioned game-based television is still as available as it ever was and that the RedZone allows people to watch teams they could never (or less frequently) have seen in the past. Proponents of the multi-channel approach to March Madness will argue for its obvious superiority by saying that it has made every minute of every game available to viewers who otherwise would not have had a say in what they were watching; that it has democratized the viewing of college basketball. Critics of the multi-channel reality may argue that availability without curation simply cannot create the gasp-inducing thrill of the old way; that having to manage your own viewing experience in this way is like going to a restaurant and being forced to choose the ingredients for your dish instead of relying on the expertise of a chef.

What all sides should be able to agree on is that it’s curious how technology and time have popularized a curated experience in football while simultaneously eradicating a similar experience in college basketball. The moral of the story is that progress rarely moves in a straight line but usually twists and turns and doubles back on itself. What’s old is new and what’s new is old more frequently than not.

The End… for now.