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In our opinion: The innocence of March Madness

Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

In an age when professional athletes earn millions of dollars, thump their own chests whenever they score and often behave badly both on and off the field of play, the NCAA basketball tournament is fresh air, indeed.

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They call it “March Madness,” but it may be the sanest few weeks on the sports calendar.

In an age when professional athletes earn millions of dollars, thump their own chests whenever they score and often behave badly both on and off the field of play, the NCAA basketball tournament is fresh air, indeed.

That’s not to say college sports don’t have their share of problems. However, the tournament has the air of amateur athletics at its best, with fresh-faced young people competing with an undying hope of victory, often despite long odds, and with proud fans rooting as much for their favorite schools as for the way their teams represent their communities.

This year, the Brigham Young University and Weber State men’s teams both qualified, with BYU surprising some observers with a 10th seed at-large bid and a shot against Oregon, and Weber State earning a 16th seed and a chance against No. 1 Arizona.

On the women’s side, BYU will be a 12th seed, meeting No. 5 North Carolina State.

It promises to be an exciting few days, with each team hoping to upset a favorite and advance to the next level.

Fans in Utah are not newcomers to this experience. The University of Utah’s memorable run to the championship game in 1998, where the Utes lost to Kentucky, is still fresh in the minds of many. For BYU, this will be the 28th invitation to the tournament, including the seventh in the last nine years. The team made it to the round of 16 in 2011, which was almost as good as when it made the round of eight in 1981.

Weber State has not been in the tournament since 2007. Many people don’t expect the Wildcats to upset Arizona, but Weber State has Davion Berry, the Big Sky’s player of the year, and anything is possible.

That spirit of possibilities, often identified with the enthusiasm of youth, is what gives the tournament its charm. For the next few weeks, Americans will watch kids — some from large schools with hopes of earning millions in the NBA and some from obscure schools just happy to be there — playing with passion and pursing a dream. Most of the seniors never again will play organized ball. This will be the highlight of their college careers, and their last shot at athletic glory.

We should also note that other Utah schools are competing in other tournaments. The University of Utah and Utah Valley University both accepted National Invitation Tournament bids. Unfortunately, the Utes lost their first game Tuesday night against St. Mary’s. UVU was scheduled to play Wednesday.

For UVU, the NIT bid is a sign that a relative newcomer to the ranks of Division 1 basketball has begun to establish itself.

The men’s and women’s baskedball teams from Westminster College also are competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament, a series for smaller colleges.

We join all Utahns in congratulating these teams and wishing them great success.

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