The NCAA Tournament Does Not Need a Cinderella

Joe MorganSenior Analyst IMarch 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 31:  Head coach Jim Larranaga of the George Mason Patriots stands on the court during practice the day before the Final Four on March 31, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

One of the best things about the NCAA Tournament is the occasional emergence of an unstoppable mid-major giant slayer that steals America's heart.

As the underdog plows through college basketball's elite, mercilessly wrecking our brackets in the process, the nation falls in love with the team's "never say die" mentality and the magic of their Cinderella story.

The unbelievable runs that define March Madness, such as Davidson reaching the Elite Eight last season and George Mason's trip to the 2006 Final Four, are not only wildly exciting and entertaining, but they create an aura of excitement few sports can even dream of achieving.

When Cleveland State, Western Kentucky, and Dayton upset Wake Forest, Illinois, and West Virginia, respectively, in the first round last weekend. The Cinderella fervor started to develop as the college basketball world began to predict which team would be wearing the glass slipper in this season's Big Dance.

However, after the dream ended for all three bracket-busters in the second round, college basketball fans have fallen into a state of shock. Panicked, the remaining tournament field was scoured endlessly in the hopes of finding even the slightest trace of surprise team.

As a result, the Arizona Wildcats are now the tournament's feel-good Cinderella story.

Granted, their worthiness of receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament received excessive criticism (Look who's laughing now!). But a program that has played in the NCAA Tournament for 25 consecutive seasons and boasts regular season victories over Gonzaga, Kansas, and UCLA will not be calling on the help of a fairy godmother anytime soon.

The fact that some fans feel the need to identify a Cinderella team each season is an absolute joke. Obviously, there are other reasons to hold a grand ball, or rather, a tournament to determine college basketball's national champion, long before Cinderella first arrived.

In fact, there is a reason why Cinderella keeps coming back to crash the same party year after year. In essence, college basketball has an athletic and entertaining masterpiece in the NCAA Tournament.

CBS certainly do not need a surging mid-major to draw a large television audience for its annual March Madness telecast.

The NCAA probably does not need a feel good story to market the tournament either. The human-interest stories and the George Mason's of the world are just the sweet frosting on an already delicious tournament cake.

Besides, what is so wrong with having the best teams in college basketball competing for the national championship?

If only all sports were so lucky. Just ask a Texas Longhorns football fan what he thinks of the BCS. If the top teams in a sport are playing with a championship on the line, the event should sell itself.

A successful mid-major makes for great intrigue, but it is not vital to having an entertaining tournament.

Cinderella teams add a fun and unique twist to college basketball. There is a reason why fans tend to root for the underdog.

They inspire a sense of hope in other small schools, proving that it takes more than state-of-the-art facilities and alumni cash to build a top-notch basketball program. It takes hard work, determination, and all that other stuff your little league baseball coach talked about at every practice.

And the elite teams have these qualities too. They may not have the mysterious aura of St. Mary's or the small town charm of Binghamton, but they have the same commitment to winning. That is what really matters.

The Big Dance continues this weekend as the "Sweet Sixteen" take the court for a chance at college basketball immortality. Although Cinderella will not be there, we can still take consolation in one thing; the party doesn't have to end at midnight.