Cinderella is ready to hang up her glass slippers.
Though we all love the idea of an underdog showing up to the Big Dance and outshining the powerhouse teams, the Cinderella analogy has no place in today’s NCAA Division I Men’s basketball tournament.
The 68 teams on the dance card bracket worked hard all season long, and the idea that any game where a lower-seeded team beats its higher-seeded opponent diminishes their efforts, desire and teamwork. Calling it a “Cinderella story,” in essence, reduces a team’s win down to a fluke.
We all know the classic children’s fairytale of Cinderella: The girl whom no one notices, the girl without any means, finds her way to the ball and gets her prince. For obvious reasons, the Cinderella analogy has a long history in sports reporting. The reference has become so embedded in the March Madness conversation that each year, the media identifies one team as the Cinderella of the tournament.
Consider Butler University, a small college with fewer than 5,000 students in Indianapolis. They were one of the most successful “mid-major” basketball teams in the NCAA throughout the early 2000s. In 2010, the Bulldogs were selected for the NCAA tournament. The media called them a “sleeper team” in their bracketology breakdowns, even though Butler was ranked No. 11 in the country through most of the season. They were relative unknowns outside of their Horizon League conference, where they played few, if any, big-name schools. Their stars — Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard — were well-known on the Butler campus but had little name recognition anywhere else.
This Bulldog team ended up losing to Duke in the National Championship game. Hayward missed a half-court shot at the buzzer for the win.
The media and the fans called them the Cinderella team. Yet, they were back in the National Championship game the next year, losing to University of Connecticut. Is the Cinderella nickname really applicable if your team makes back-to-back appearances in the championship game? Butler earned a #6 seed for this year’s tournament.
It used to be that any team outside of the five main conferences — the Big 12, Pacific 12, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) — was considered a Cinderella of sorts. But in the last 15 years, teams like Butler and Gonzaga University are perennials in the tournament and have solid programs with strong recruits.
When it comes to March Madness, the idea of “upsets” has been elevated to nearly mythical status. The media is mostly to blame for perpetuating the idea of the Cinderella story. Fans typically choose a Dark Horse or Cinderella when filling out their brackets. You know why? There is bound to be one in a field of 68.
Perhaps the media (as the Know-It-All Evil Stepsisters) needs to stop calling these wins by lesser-known teams “upsets,” and instead call them what they are: victories for the teams who put up the points, showed the most heart and worked hard all season long to get there.
So fans, as you fill out your brackets this year, look at the body of work by these schools throughout the year, the experience, what type of style they play and then make your choice.
Certainly, do not choose by color of their uniforms, mascot, mascot’s name, flipping a coin, what your pet’s name is, but by actually doing the homework on each team.
Then, like everyone else, you’ll realize there are no Cinderellas, just elite basketball teams playing for a National Championship.