Badger Hockey, The IRL, and George Mason: The Good, the Bad, and the Favorites To Win It All?

With apologies to Larry King and Hank Kingsley, here are my thoughts from a busy sports weekend . . .

As memorable as Sunday night’s UW men’s hockey game was, you have to wonder if that is the kind of contest that will have a positive impact on the overall popularity of the program. Casual Badger fans will likely take the fact that over 100 minutes of game time elapsed before any scoring occurred as validation that they’ve made the right decision to not follow hockey with the same enthusiasm they do football and basketball. (Although during the Dick Bennett era, it sometimes seemed as if the basketball team would go 100 minutes between scores . . .)

For those who watched or attended, however, the game was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating, as was watching the women’s hockey team bring home their first national championship. Talk about a shot in the arm for a program that many are still only peripherally aware of. Here’s hoping that the University can cash this championship season in for years of heightened interest and popularity (to hopefully coincide with more titles!). Obviously, the time to sell the Badger faithful on women’s hockey is now.

Regarding the horrific accident that killed driver Paul Dana on Sunday while he was participating in warm-ups for the IRL’s season-opening race, what’s shocking is not that the accident occurred — I’m amazed that tragedies like that don’t happen more often given the nature of the sport — but that the subsequent race went on as planned. This tasteless decision to continue with business as usual despite knowing of Dana’s death prior to the scheduled start of the race reminds me of the World Wrestling Foundation’s equally atrocious decision to continue with a Pay Per View event even after wrestler Owen Hart had fallen to his death performing a stunt. I personally don’t consider racing any more of a sport than I do professional wrestling, and how the IRL handled itself after Dana’s death certainly did nothing to make my feelings of the “sport” any more positive. I’ll continue to be ignorant of it as long as IRL executives continue to be ignorant of basic human kindness and decency.

Since all but maybe four people in the country have had their brackets busted, George Mason has to be the heavy emotional favorite to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. But I think they also have to be the flat-out, odds-on favorite to win the entire thing anyway. Who’s really going to pick against a team that has beaten tourney favorites (and winners of three of the last six championships) Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut? Any fears that George Mason would eventually let up due to a sense of self-satisfaction at simply going further than they were supposed to go were dispelled after they beat UConn. They were simply better than UConn and there’s no reason to think they won’t be better than Florida, UCLA, or LSU.

As good a tournament as it’s been for George Mason, it’s been a bad one for CBS’s team of college basketball analysts. First Billy Packer’s rant against the number of mid-major schools securing invitations to the Big Dance was proven to be ridiculous as the likes of George Mason, Bradley, and Wichita State advanced into the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Then Clark Kellogg’s assertion that this would be the first year that all number one-seeded teams would advance to the Final Four turned out to be completely laughable, as no number one-seeded teams advanced to the Final Four. Luckily for CBS, the excitement of another spectacular tournament has completely drowned out the ineptness of some of their commentators. Now if the network could get someone to drown out the ineptness of Ghost Whisperer . . .


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