There’s something surreal about the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. One of the great things about the tournament is the excitement created by the one and out format if you lose. The uncertainty creates a level thrilling basketball that’s only found at the college level. Sixty-four teams will be competing to for a chance at the National Title. The teams can get to the tournament by means of two ways. The first way is to be highly ranked by a system called the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which was formulated to help the NCAA basketball committee assemble and seed the teams for the tournament. The true selection process by the RPI is unknown but many former selection committee members have acknowledged that it is derived from three components including a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponent’s winning percentage (50%), and its opponent’s winning percentage (25%). The other possibility of going to the tournament is to win the conference tournament, which teams belong. For those teams who have little hope of getting an at-large bid by the RPI system, they have a chance at the NCAA tournament by winning their conference tournament. Teams all across the nation are scrambling at a shot for this prestigious tournament. The tournament itself is better known as “March Madness.” Sports analysts, commentators, and announcers’ use of metaphoric terminology to help describe, explain, and illustrate why the men’s NCAA basketball tournament is so highly prestigious.
A metaphor allows one to describe a text so that it gives meaning and is understandable to others. Michael Osborn and Douglas Ehninger suggest that that a metaphor functions as a “communicative stimulus that allows a user to identify an idea or object through a sign which generally denotes an entirely different idea or object. Metaphor also functions as a mental response because of the interaction between ideas suggested by the terms usual denotation and its special denotation in the particular context.” Metaphors are critical in describing the event of the NCAA tournament and its importance.
The tournament is generally referred to as “The Big Dance.” This description of the tournament is widely used showing the importance of the event. There are many teams that would give anything to attend this so called “Big Dance.” This term in itself describes the prestige of a team going to the tournament. “Big” is officially known as great in size, and “dance” is officially known as moving one’s body and feet in rhythm. Many sports writers and commentators use these terms when March rolls around. The “Big Dance” was used just as often as the NCAA tournament was used in my research. Dick Vital is one of the commentators who often uses these terms and uses them with extreme intensity stating, “It’s that time of year fans, and here’s who I like in the “Big Dance…”
The pattern of these prestigious metaphors is also apparent in the different levels of the tournament bracket. Any team that advances two games into the tournament are immediately apart of what is normally called the “Sweet Sixteen.” At this point in the tournament, a team has made it to either the West, Midwest, South, or East, semifinals, but “Sweet Sixteen” is typically used as a more convincing term. The next round in the tournament is the separate divisional Championships. Most writers and commentators call this the “Elite Eight.” Another advancement in the tournament would send you into the National Semifinals where only four teams remain. The National Semifinals are better known as the road to the “Final Four.” The National Semifinals would be foreign to most people but the phrase “Final Four” is widely common. A team would then advance to the National Championship after winning a “Final Four” game. There have only been twelve teams in history to win two or more NCAA National Championship titles. UCLA leads with eleven titles, Kentucky with seven, Indiana with five, Duke with three, and North Carolina with three titles leading out the top five teams. The National Title is also known in the sports world as winning the “Crown.” These metaphors are highly known in the sports world including the “Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the Crown.”
The next term that is widely used in the sports world describes a team who has had an average regular season and proceeded to upset a higher ranked team in their conference tournament. They try to ride that wave of momentum into the field of sixty-four and hope to upset another higher ranked team in the first and second rounds of the tournament to make it to the “Sweet Sixteen.” These teams are commonly known as the “Cinderella” teams. These teams typically don’t make it farther than the “Sweet Sixteen” where their season comes to an end. A perfect example of a “Cinderella” team would be Gonzaga University. What Gonzaga did was give every other team in the West Coast Conference hope. To most of the college basketball world, it must seem as if Gonzaga magically busted onto the NCAA tournament scene out of nowhere. What Gonzaga accomplished was reaching the “Sweet Sixteen” for the third straight season. Only the two other teams including Duke and Michigan State can say the same. This is why they are generally called “Cinderella” teams. Since Gonzaga has accomplished this feat in the past three years, they are no longer called a “Cinderella” team. If a team completes an upset during the first round but doesn’t go on to win another game they’re just called “One Hit Wonders.” There are also many other metaphors describing this type of team which many people call “David vs. Goliath” success stories. Teams such as Duke or Michigan State are typically known as “Powerhouse” teams. They are called this because of their frequent appearances in the “Big Dance.” A “David vs. Goliath” success story is described when a smaller team such as Temple who had a seed of eleven beats a team such as Florida with a number three seed. Another example would come from last year’s 2001 tournament when number two seeded North Carolina lost to number seven seeded Penn State to advance to the “Sweet Sixteen.”
In particular, I looked at the live coverage of the 2001 NCAA final four and all of its media coverage. There were three games that I researched including the two final four games that consisted of (Arizona versus Michigan State and Duke versus Maryland) and the National Championship game, which hosted Duke versus Arizona. One of the metaphors used to describe the tournament is war. Many commentators often refer to the NCAA tournament in a sense of comparing the competition to aspects of war. On the other hand, this terminology was in no means used in a negative context concerning events that have happened in the past or that are currently affecting us. They use this language of warfare to explain, define, illustrate, and compare the tournament with war. The games are typically referred to as battles. Holly Cross coach Ralph Willard claims, “This is do-or- die basketball for the so called mid-major schools. You have to be tough out there… Set tone and tempo from the start. Fight your way through screens, set good picks, block out strong, and battle on the floor for loose balls.” This statement shows the level of intensity, which the games are being played. Players are also referred to as warriors out on the court. Shane Battier of the Duke blue devils discussing the tournament claimed, “We’ll never wave the white flag… We have too much pride. We know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a surrendering team.” Battier was also described as a “veteran” of the Duke blue devils. This metaphor is used to describe a player who has played for a team for duration such as Battier has done for four years. Many players who have as much talent as Battier end up leaving college early to enter the NBA draft before they finish their college career. During the games of the final four of the 2001 NCAA tournament, many warlike connotations were used. First, Duke was referred to as an “enemy” of their opponent Arizona. This suggests somewhat of a rivalry between the two teams. They were the only two teams out of sixty-four to successfully win five straight games and make it to the National championship. Another term that was used was “bombs.” This terminology referred to Duke’s Jason Williams “dropping bombs” which was used in the manner of him scoring several points consistently. He made four baskets in a row which could have also been taken as him “shooting” very well. Williams was also referred to as being a very “explosive” player. This terminology was used to describe is quickness on the court to drive past his opponents. The use of ‘attack” was used many times to describe players getting rebounds and driving into the lane to score points. For example, Shane Battier was described as “attacking the boards” which means he was getting a lot of rebounds. There were many other terms used in describing the final four such as “war,” “hero,” and “defeat.” These terms are all helpful in describing the tournament and basketball in general so that people can understand it better.
Another typical use of metaphor terminology involves the use of fantasy and myth. The tournament is described as an event that is so prestigious the whole experience is said to be surreal. Many terms related to fantasy and myths are used to describe the tournament. First of all, as I stated earlier, teams that aren’t expected to win are called Cinderella teams. These teams are typically called Cinderella teams because of the success story that was not supposed to have happened. These teams’ success stories are related to the story of Cinderella (hence the name.) The “David and Goliath” success story is another use of metaphor typically describing an underhanded team that beats a more prestigious team in the NCAA tournament. Maryland was the only team who was described this way last year in the finals because they lost to Florida State (the worst team in the ACC) during their last regular season game. Once they were in the tournament, they beat the number one seeded Stanford in the West’s final to advance to the final four while they were only ranked a number three seed in their division. The game was a “David and Goliath” match because Stanford was the number one seed in the West division. The tournament is also referred to as a “dream” for the players. There is only sixty-four teams that get a chance in the tournament and for those teams who win four straight games; they have made it into the “final four” best teams of the nation. Many references were made to the senior players that may or may not get a shot at the next level of the NBA. These players at least got to go out in style if they didn’t have a chance in the draft.
There were also many more metaphors used in covering the tournament that didn’t fit into a specific “bracket.” One of these metaphors described the tournament as a “cornucopia of basketball madness.” This was a way of describing the number of games in which the tournament hosts or showing how so many different teams across the nation were involved in the tournament. The entire tournament is described more often by the two metaphors of “March Madness, The Big Dance, and/or March Mayhem.” First, “March Madness and March Mayhem” describes the one and out style of the tournament if you lose. This puts pressure on the players and coaches because upsets are always bound to happen. “The Big Dance” also describes the tournament’s diversity where teams shuffle to gain spots no matter how they compare to the other team’s strength. This reiterates the fact that so many teams are fighting for the same goal (The NCAA men’s basketball championship.)
Sports analysts, commentators, and announcers use of metaphoric terminology help to describe, explain, and illustrate the why the men’s NCAA basketball tournament is so highly prestigious. Metaphoric categories of war-like and fantasy terminology help in showing why the tournament is so prestigious. The tournament coverage of CBS closes with David Barrett’s piano preamble. The song is also shows how the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” wraps up the tournament. The power of these metaphors exemplify why the tournament is so important to the players, coaches, and fans of colleges who get a chance to participate.
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