Friday, March 28, 2008

Being Far From March Madness Can Be Maddening

LONDON -- Philosophy 101 Question: If a Villanova fan in a foreign country screams victoriously in the middle of the night during March Madness, can anyone who cares hear her?

This is a question I ponder nearly every year in March. As a Villanova alumna living in London since 1998, I have learned how to be a faithful fan surrounded by people who think that March Madness is some sort of psychiatric condition.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, being a far-flung fan is not as difficult as it once was. When I first moved to London and the Internet was still in its infancy, I could only keep up with the Wildcats by reading the scores the next day. This year, I can watch the games themselves, which is the closest thing to nirvana an international NCAA basketball fan can experience in March.

The Internet has even enabled me to participate in the most storied of March traditions, the NCAA Tournament Pool. For my first March Madness abroad in 1999, I found myself on the floor of the Rome airport, filling out my brackets in a very expensive copy of USA Today. The exercise was for my own amusement only, but I felt such a profound loss in not being able to participate in a pool that I thought if I filled out the brackets, I would feel better. I didn’t, even if I was the winner of my pool-of-one, and Villanova lost in the first round anyway.

But sitting on the dusty floor of an airport using a pen and paper for bracket filling is a thing of the past. A fellow ‘Nova alum set up an Internet site for people to make their choices, and payment is via PayPal. While my location may put me at a distinct disadvantage in knowing who’s hot and who’s not, at least I have the distinction of being the only international player in a pool of nearly 300 people.

Even though I play in a pool, it doesn’t replicate the community of hope I experienced while a student on Villanova’s Main Line campus. I do what I can, mostly using my two sons (age 8 and 4) for my own amusement. After all, isn’t that what children are for? I taught them both how to sing the Villanova fight song and they both proudly wear Villanova gear. Even my husband, who isn’t exactly a Wildcat fan but knows what’s good for him, will be supportive during this crucial month.

But it still isn’t quite right. Singing the fight song can cheer me to no end, but my son’s friends don’t understand what they’re doing. Proudly wearing the Villanova colors might make my day, but the people my sons pass on the street think they’re making a fashion statement, not showing their support.

After Villanova’s victory in the first round, I found that the Gods of Scheduling had smiled on me for the Easter Sunday game against Siena at 12:10 p.m. Eastern Time (4:10 p.m. London time). The only problem was we were guests at an Easter lunch party. My host, a Temple University alumnus, understood my need to check on the score periodically throughout the meal. The rest of the guests, though, were far more interested in the outcome of the Arsenal-Chelsea football match that was playing on the radio in the kitchen.

When I returned to the dining room upon the completion of the first half, I found myself in the unusual situation of explaining the significance of the NCAA Tournament to several people who had never heard of it. Once I finished my monologue about the beauty of basketball, 65 collegiate teams, Cinderella stories and Villanova’s place in it all, the British guests all nodded their heads politely, as if they understood. I’m quite certain they thought I was bonkers. But because my fellow guests were British, and therefore exceedingly polite, they congratulated me on Villanova’s win at the end of the evening.

So when you’re gathered around the television set on Friday night to watch the Villanova Wildcats take on the Kansas Jayhawks, spare a thought for those of us on the other side of the world, up in the middle of the night, and cheering as quietly as possible so we don’t wake up the rest of the house.

This is an Op-Ed I submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They didn't take it. I like to think I submitted it too late, but it's possible they just didn't like it. Now you can enjoy it on MarathonMum instead.

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