No Sympathy for Michigan’s Cars or Basketball
I’ll be the first to tell you that, of all the post-NCAA championship articles, this piece is a little late to the game. The final game was held more than a week ago and by now, you’ve read a whole slew of opinions in regards to the outcome and associated storylines. But since we’re a weekly and spot-on timeliness isn’t our forte, humor me and pretend for a moment that you just found out yesterday that the University of North Carolina Tar Heels are your 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions.
Anyone who paid attention to commentary after the matchup between UNC and Michigan State was set undoubtedly witnessed the sporting media desperately trying to craft some semblance of a compelling narrative. For a tournament celebrated for its wild finishes and Cinderella stories, this year’s March Madness was surprisingly sane, leaving the talking heads to grasp at straws for subject matter relating to one of the biggest sporting events of the year. There were plenty of asinine opinions rendered, but among them was the most egregious notion that Michigan State was some sort of “team of destiny,” upon whose shoulders rested the hopes and dreams of an entire populace. Yes, they were practically the home team and yes, Detroit has deteriorated to the point it resembles Afghanistan, minus the beautiful women. It’s a complete hell hole and it’s at the center of a firestorm of controversy thanks to the ineptitude of the American auto industry and its union. But come on, it’s been approaching its present state since long before Tyler Hansbrough ever scored his first basket for the Tar Heels. To suggest that a Michigan State victory would, even temporarily, alleviate the ills of a state traditionally besieged by the nation’s highest jobless rate was not only ludicrous, but shortsighted. It’s not like North Carolina is some Shangri-la of plentiful wages and cushy benefit plans, either. Only two other states besides Michigan currently sport higher jobless rates, Oregon and South Carolina, with North Carolina poised to overtake them both at a moment’s notice. Forgive my insensitivity, but I find it hard to sympathize with high school-educated, and sometimes not even so, unskilled workers pulling down a benefitadjusted rate of about $74 per hour. Until just a few months ago, most of those laid-off auto workers still received 95 percent of their takehome pay and benefits as a part of the jobs bank program negotiated by the United Auto Workers. It’s no coincidence that the spike in Michigan’s unemployment insurance claims during January and February arrived at the same time that many of those workers’ free ride on their ex-employers’ balance sheet came to an end. Yet, ask refugees of the North Carolina tobacco and textile industries in the past decades what kind of paycheck their former employers are still giving them. You might not like their reaction one bit. Yet, so many people employed for their expert analysis bought into the fairy tale that the Michigan State Spartans were here to be the saviors of the Midwest economy that they completely blew off the reality of the situation. There was some kind of fictional precedent of the Patriots winning the first Super Bowl after 9-11 that was mentioned. The Spartans did indeed knock off both number-one seeds from their side of the bracket and were riding a palpable wave of momentum; that much is without question. But the only difference between the team that was utterly devastated by UNC in December to the tune of 98-63 and the team that went to the championship game was center Goran Suton. He’s good, but not 35 points worth. So one expert after another chose the Spartans based on some intangibly prophetic quality. Among those who referenced “destiny,” Greg Anthony and Seth Davis made their calls just before tip and Mike Greenburg made his that morning. Colin Cowherd, the Glenn Beck of sports talk, did as well, complete with a few poisoned barbs directed at Tyler Hansbrough. Jim Rome, who I’m still amazed gobbled up the hype, picked the Spartans, though he later served himself a heaping helping of dayold crow on his show. But the outcome was a foregone conclusion to anyone paying attention. Even Vegas set the line at 7.5, which is a pretty large disparity for the NCAA championship game. UNC came out guns blazing, while MSU slept through their alarm clock. Even after a fleeting feeling of satisfaction for much of the state (sorry Duke fans), it’s back to business as usual. The win didn’t translate to decreased unemployment; it didn’t pay an out-of-work family’s electric bill; and it didn’t bring new industry to the state. It was just a game and one played by a team up north bearing an unfair burden. Michigan State has a great shot at the Final Four next year in Indiana, another beleaguered Midwest state, and here’s to finding something new to talk about when the time comes.