Rooting for the Underdog

Okay, so I know that last week I wrote about the NCAA basketball tournament, but indulge me the opportunity to do so one more time this week.

The tournament now consists of 68 teams from around the country. 31 conference champions receive an automatic bid; 37 other teams awarded at-large berths. Most of the 37 at-large bids go to teams in the so-called “power conferences.” These power conference teams are almost always contain the teams that are most favored to win the tournament and to win tournament games. It doesn’t always happen this way and most fans are in agreement that the possibility of an underdog beating a favored team is what makes the tournament so attractive.

I have attended some tournament games in past years and unless the favored team has a strong following in the area (i.e., Duke playing in Greensboro), if the underdog has the potential to upset the favorite, the fans start pulling for the underdog. Every year a team that no one expected to win even one game wins multiple games and becomes a “Cinderella” team for neutral fans to cheer for.

On Friday of last week, Syracuse, a basketball powerhouse and one of the top teams was in a dogfight with UNC-Asheville, one of the lowest rated teams. Asheville actually led most of the game but as it came down to the final minute, a couple of controversial officiating calls turned the game in Syracuse’s favor and they ended up winning by 7 points.

After the game, I listened to a number of “experts” and read a number of articles expressing opinions about the officiating. I found their opinions interesting; I found the fan blogs fascinating. Within a few minutes of the game’s conclusion, just the ESPN.com page had more than a 1000 comments posted and through the next day it rose to over 5000! People were angry and frustrated!

I began to ask myself, “Why get so upset about a basketball game? After all, it’s only a game?” Some people are upset because they are a fan of UNC-Asheville; others hate Syracuse. But many posted comments as neutral observers. I think that people are upset by what they perceive as an injustice because it is a microcosm of how most people feel about the world in general.

The powerful run the world. Those with clout get what they want. People who have connections and money are elected to office. We hear stories of millionaires who pay little or no taxes, of wealthy CEOs who steal from their employees and even when they are caught and prosecuted, the employees rarely get any of their money back. We understand how the world works; we just can’t do anything about it. We feel helpless. We pin our hopes on something smaller and when we perceive that the same rules operate in the smaller realm as in the larger one, it ignites all of our negative energy. It compounds our feelings of frustration.

Christians don’t deny the reality of evil in the world; we do, however, understand that appearances are deceiving. We know that there is more going on than what we can see—this is our faith and our hope. This is the message of the cross.

It might not change our opinion of the outcome of a basketball game—but it definitely gives us hope in a world that often feels mired in hopelessness.