Full confession: I have been neglecting my duties as a Canadian and have not watched a hockey game in a couple weeks. Please do not deport me. I have my reasons, mainly the semester has picked up, as such my sports consumption has been cut. As exciting as this condensed hockey has been, you’re fooling yourself if you think I’d pick hockey over basketball. Nicole suggested that I catch a couple draws of the Brier. Yes, we’re talking about curling. In the middle of March, after Selection Sunday, curling. Why, when the greatest tournament in all of sports is about begin? The tournament exemplifies everything we love about sports: teamwork, excitement, and players playing for the love of the game instead of their next contract. The tournament where the line between winning and losing is as thin as a fingernail. However, this tournament has already been played. Yes, after digesting nine hours of the Brier, I have come to the conclusion: the Brier exemplifies what we love about sports better than March Madness. If I spontaneously combust tonight and am never heard from again, do not worry, it’s just the basketball gods smiting me.
However, before the basketball gods come to curb-stomp my soul into oblivion, allow me to explain. I did not say curling was better than basketball, or more exciting, and I did not say I would be skipping March Madness because the Brier already happened. What I mean is, if you distill everything we love about sports and take everything which cause our eyes to roll – I’m talking about: commercial breaks, scandals, agents – all the ugly that comes with sports, you be left with a tournament which more or less would be comparable to the Brier. This sport doesn’t need to be curling but it just so happens curling is played at the Brier. Sports have reached the point where it’s a business first and foremost, it’s too big. Maybe, the only place we can find this pure version of a sport is on playgrounds or in niche sports like curling. Don’t be fooled by what the NCAA might push as if it’s some timeless institution, it’s a giant money making machine, first and foremost.
Before I dive into curling let me debunk four of the most common arguments I hear about how college basketball is the purest of pure.
“NCAA basketball is better than the NBA.”
False. If this was true I would follow NCAA Men’s Basketball instead of the NBA. NBA players are better, more developed, more everything. The amount of holes in a college player’s game is appalling, most of them can’t go left and right, or make a jump shot unless it’s what they are known for. Watch a half of a college game and a half of a NBA game. It looks like two different sports. Sure, it could be your preference to like one more than the other but the college game isn’t better than the NBA one.
“There is no loyalty in the NBA, there is a better sense of team in college.”
False. NCAA coaches can jump schools with zero repercussions – as soon as a better job opens up, coaches will usually leave. Players don’t transfer because they have sit out a year but it’s mostly due to the fact that if you’re a potential high draft pick, you’re gone after one year. This sums it up.
“The atmosphere and intensity of the college game is better than the NBA.”
This one is kind of true and it makes sense because of the way the NBA schedule is currently structured, aka it’s too long. Atmosphere and intensity is one thing but the level of play should matter more. The idea that college players play defense and NBA players don’t, isn’t true. College ball for the most part masks bad offense by calling it good defense. The difference in the level of play is so wide, it renders atmosphere and intensity mute. Besides, who watches a game because of it’s atmosphere.
“NCAA athletes, play for the love of the game, NBA players get paid so they don’t need to bring it every night.”
My argument in four points:
1. When was the last time a guaranteed number one pick stayed in college?
2. Since they’re in college, everyone on the team must get along great and there’s no clash of ego’s over minutes, shots, and stats, like every other basketball team ever right?
3. The most important thing to a player is to win, not their draft stock, right?
4. If you’re a star player for a major school you probably get paid more than a skip in curling.
Curling gets a bad rap but that could be said about any sport you don’t understand. Take basketball for instance, I’ve heard people tell me they don’t like it because, “It’s not a contact sport. It’s too easy, what’s stopping them from scoring every time? The players are pussies for sitting out because of a bruised knee cap.” You get the idea. I could talk about the ways I’ve made fun of curling – it’s darts on ice – but Nicole’s friend Cassie summed it up best when she told Nicole what she thinks about when curling is on her mind, “Stones everywhere. Sweep, sweep.” When we talk about sports we know nothing about we tend to focus on the actual activity of it. Yes, that is the most important thing when learning how to play the sport but when watching it tends to get in the way of enjoying it. If you think about it, if sports existed without context, every one is ridiculous. When you discuss a sport you love, you never explain the actual actions unless something amazing happens. Instead you gush about the nuances, the things you could only see by having the perspective of a spectator.
After nine hours of watching curling, I do not have the nuances picked up in any capacity. The game is a baby step up from, “Stones everywhere. Sweep, sweep.” However, I can see why people love it. If I were to sell someone on curling I would focus on the level of precision for every stone which is thrown. It’s like a quarterback hitting a receiver in the split second open window he has, or a tennis forehand which paints the line. Curling is like golf in this respect, both sports take the level of perfection we are used to seeing performed in a split second and it stretches that process out. We see the entire process because it’s slowed down, it’s like watching that moment in slow motion. Curling is like chess on ice, does that sound exciting on the surface? Not really but to appreciate it you have to dive deeper. As easy as curling looks, you never get the feeling you could do it as well as they do. I know if I tried it the stone would go through a wall. Curlers are savants, you feel as if they’re doing something you could do if you practiced but no matter how much you did, you would not reach their level.
Taking in the Brier what stood out most for me was how non-famous the curlers seem. Whatever the opposite of stage presence is they have it. They seem invisible, almost unimportant. They’re secondary to the sport. It comes across as an innocence which major sports don’t have. Curlers could care less about presenting the perfect idea of themselves, or put up a wall in order to protect their brand. With this, there is a sense of freedom and a quiet self awareness to everyone involved. They recognize how silly it is for them to be on television playing a game. They are still competitive but there is not a feeling of life and death with major sports, there is no sense that a curler will kill another one to win a game. Not saying this is better or not, just a different vibe. This different vibe is a reminder that sports are not the be all, end all. Sometimes we forget the point of sports is to have fun. Fitting that it would take a niche sport to remind me of it. Since it is over, bring on the Madness.
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
For me, Irving’s point “if you’re a star player for a major school you probably get paid more than a skip in curling” filled me with nothing but pride.
I love what Irving has written here. I adore that curlers aren’t concerned with their brand – they’re concerned about executing a high level performance. It’s incredibly refreshing that the pervasive aspects of sporting globalization and commodification that we have come to see as synonymous with elite sport don’t/haven’t/can’t infiltrate curling; there’s no huge international sponsor trying to gnaw away at it’s sporting soul.
Dear curling, you are perfect just how you are. Don’t go changing on us.