THERE isn’t much to dissect about the Louisville Cardinals’ 82-76 triumph over the Michigan Wolverines for the US NCAA men’s basketball title this week.
The championship game simply reflected the Cardinals’ firm resolve not to lose. As in the Final Four, they clawed back from 12 points down and got a lift from reserve Luke Hancock, who simply reprised the role he played two days before against Wichita State.
Hancock again engineered Louisville’s comeback with another 20-point performance even before the Wolverines could relish their lead.
What was quite evident in the tournament were two interesting practices that are worth considering for our own school leagues.
For one, the US NCAA has an endgame ritual of coaches, players and team managers congratulating each other individually. It’s like a Congratulations Ceremony, if you will. Lines are formed from each bench with the coaches leading the way along the sidelines.
I don’t know if this is mandatory but it’s part of every endgame in the tournament, even on championship night.
Interestingly, it’s never easy for the vanquished squad, especially if it suffered a painful loss to simply forget the trauma. It’s easier to sulk and mope but I think losers and winners must both acknowledge each other’s effort.
On championship night, we can still lift our coaches after a similar Congratulations Ceremony. We often rush to execute this lift of triumph at the final buzzer because it’s tradition and does make for a pretty sports picture.
The other ritual will probably be too radical, but here goes: In major US basketball tournaments, there are really no second-place trophies. There’s only one championship trophy being contested and it looks the same every year.
This is perhaps boring for some who disdain seeing the same trophy each year. But the NCAA and the NBA like the continuity of having one trophy for the ages. It does mean something to win that league championship trophy and collect a few of them through the years.
Can we implement having only the championship trophy? Maybe we like to give out second-place trophies like Wimbledon does. The Olympics, of course, honors the top three finishers. There is some virtue in honoring a second-place finish because it’s never easy to get into any finale in any sport.
Through the years, league organizers and TV people have struggled to bring out the vanquished team from a depressed locker room. Many strongly feel, though, that losers waiting to receive a second-place trophy is a teaching situation where they must be sporting enough to stay on the court.
Nowadays, in some leagues, the runner-up is obliged to stay on court and wait for its trophy. It does take some time, though, to set up the awarding ceremony while a jubilant school is enjoying the moment. It’s painful to peek at the losers who are feeling terrible while waiting.
Let’s try the Congratulations Ceremony and on championship night, let the losing side repair to the locker room to manage the emotions of the loss. Let’s get rid of second-place trophies because nobody wants to look at them anyway in a school trophy case.
The defeated team does not have less sportsmanship than the winning side if it is allowed to head back to the locker room after losing in the finals.