Despite all of Yale’s different types of diversity, instances are still hard to come by in which Yale’s sports fans pay serious attention to events outside of the northeast. The recently concluded NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship is a welcome reminder of the excitement that the rest of the country has to offer.
Generally, the sports media likes to focus on the major media markets as much as possible. To take a recent example, the Peyton Manning saga, a historic decision by one of football’s all-time greats as to whether to leave Indiana for Tennessee or Colorado somehow immediately became focused on the New York area because of the ensuing trade to the Jets of a second-rate, second-string quarterback, Tim Tebow.
Granted, Tebowmania is its own separate cultural phenomenon, but the trend for sports fans at Yale is constant. Throughout the year, attentive eyes of Eli sports fans rarely stray farther than undergraduates often do on the weekend.
Fall is dominated by the inevitable annual Yankees-Red Sox drama. When the major northeastern teams fall out of the World Series chase, most Yalies tune out as well, at least until the Cardinals are down two runs facing elimination. The weekly grind of the college and professional football seasons are left to the teams’ loyalists, while no one really pays attention to either the NBA (when it starts) or college basketball until their postseasons.
As winter comes, Yale is on break for the fun part of the college bowl season. The Super Bowl is likely the only sporting event besides March Madness that students would actually watch if New York and Boston teams were not playing, but the second meeting of the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in the grand event in the last five years is telling in this regard.
Come springtime, Yalies have picked up and left by the time the NBA and NHL pick up with their playoffs, leaving more Yankees-Red Sox as the predominant seasonal focus.
Whether it’s the thrill of the upset or the pervasive gambling culture associated with the NCAA tourney, it represents the major annual sports event reminding Yalies of the importance of the heartland. As an Ohioan, I am all too familiar with the dismissive attitude the disproportionate number of New Yorkers and Bostonians at this institution have in regard to places the commuter rail doesn’t go.
This year’s tournament made the middle of the country proud. Looking at the Final Four, one national semifinal was two Midwestern teams, Ohio State vs. Kansas. The other was an intrastate matchup of Louisville and Kentucky, definitely not East Coast schools, and since they are just across the Ohio River, they might be liberally considered Midwestern as well.
Midwestern dominance in the past month went so far as to colonize bastions of the haughty East Coast attitude; Ohio State and Cincinnati matched up in the Sweet 16 in the TD Garden in Boston.
In the Yale College Council Bracket Challenge, which attracted nearly 200 Yalies, students truly showed an uncharacteristic openness to teams from the middle of the country, picking national champions at proportions almost identical to the 6.45 million brackets submitted on ESPN.com. In sum, nearly 60 percent of national championship picks were not located on the coasts, while over 36 percent correctly identified Kentucky as the winner, despite Yalies’ tendency to use the state as the butt of jokes.
For one month out of the year, states such as Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio are discussed with the respect that outstanding players such as Anthony Davis and Aaron Craft have earned. With the opening of Major League Baseball upon us, we will return to familiar headlines and conversation topics. But there is little doubt that this time next year, Yale’s sports fans will be back to talking about the Midwest. Until then, the Presidential election in November might have the best shot at reminding a good portion of the student body that such a place exists.