The hoop dreams of March

The hoop dreams of March

I'll tell you, I have a real deficit of compassion for pay TV operators.

Here we are in March Madness and when we turned on the television on Tuesday for the start of the national collegiate men's basketball championship, we could not find truTV, the channel showing the first round of games.

Channel 43 skipped right on to Channel 45. Where was the one in between that was broadcasting North Carolina State versus Xavier?

According to our channel guide, even our cheapo basic cable package should have it.

So it was to Google, to find the answer. A news story informed us that our provider had migrated some analog channels, such as truTV, to a digital format, to make room on its network "for faster Internet" (still a fraction of Singapore's speeds).

Even if you had a digital TV, like most of us now do, you would not be able to tune it to the channel without a decoder from the company, which it was offering free "till January 2015".

Apparently, this all happened some time in 2012 but we had no clue, since truTV is not in our ambit of viewing. I know I am missing out on all those episodes of Lizard Lick Towing, Hardcore Pawn and Killer Karaoke, but hey, life is short, and I have to go watch the grass grow.

We could have sent for an adapter but instead we turned on the radio, which beats Internet streaming, IMO. There is something pure about seeing the game in your mind's eye and feeling the excitement conveyed solely through the voice of a sportscaster. That alone might have turned me on to basketball.

I guess it was inevitable, living as we do in this town and its fanatical support of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels (not to be confused with NC State). The first time I visited Chapel Hill, my fiance took me to the stadium where he had watched Michael Jordan play for UNC. And shortly after we moved here in 2008, our children, then aged nine and 10, learnt the two most important facts about their new home: Duke is puke, and God's favourite colour is Carolina Blue.

Almost every facet of life here is shot through with the intense rivalry between the two teams, which are in neighbouring towns. The day after UNC beat Duke (or Dook, as some call them) at home earlier this year, I was at lunch in a restaurant and I could hear raised voices in the kitchen as one of the workers upped and left because he was so mad at having to take it from his Tar Heel supporting colleagues.

Not really liking any American sport when I got here, I tried to keep up with Manchester United, my football team ever since I saw Bryan Robson play in the 1982 World Cup. But without the slew of EPL games on our cheapo basic package that most Singaporeans take for granted, my interest waned to the occasional flicker and a short cry about how pathetic this season is. I am still loyal to the Red Devils but it has to be dormant for now.

Besides, you would have to be in a coma here in the States not to notice the national obsession this month.

Known colloquially as March Madness, this is the yearly knock-out tournament for the top 68 college basketball teams in the country. Time slows down in our patch, which has produced two of the top five winning schools. UNC and Duke have five and four national championships apiece.

For about two weeks, local rivalries from our regional league, the Atlantic Coast Conference, are set aside. Theoretically, those of us from Chapel Hill might even root for Duke to beat top-ranked Wichita State as we cheer on our league's teams that have made it to the national tournament. Theoretically.

This year, investment guru Warren Buffet offered a billion dollars to anyone who correctly predicts the winner of every game. I guess he's predicting he won't be out of pocket, as the odds are supposedly one in 9.2 quintillion for a perfect bracket.

Still, it's a bit of fun in this seriously sports-mad country, where college basketball has such a devoted following it can implode on itself. Scandals emerge now and then about under-the-table payments and inducements to student athletes (who are not supposed to be paid), and even sham courses created to help them meet their college requirements.

With the best college ball players, odds are they get drafted to the NBA before they're even done with school. It causes me chagrin to see players abandon their team, not to mention college (what's a few million bucks), but apparently, that's just the way the ball drops.

So before we kiss goodbye, let me just say: go, Heels!

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