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The real hero in NCAA March Madness

For college hoop fans eager to embrace a bona fide March Madness NCAA basketball tournament underdog, look away from the brackets and root for the referee. The guys in zebra shirts will confront challenges even greater than matching up against Kentucky or Syracuse.


University of Connecticut's Ryan Boatright fights for a loose ball with Iowa State University's Melvin Ejim in their NCAA March Madness basketball game in Louisville, Kentucky March 15.

John Sommers II/Reuters

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For college hoop fans eager to embrace a bona fide March Madness underdog, this could be the year to finally do the unthinkable: Root for the referee.

The guys in zebra shirts will confront some of the greatest challenges of the tournament (yes, greater than matching up against Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, or Michigan State) and will battle odds every bit as daunting as those faced by the 64th seed.

To say this has been less than a banner year for NCAA sports is an understatement. (The list is long before you even get to Penn State football, and who remembers that UConn’s coach Jim Calhoun was suspended for recruiting violations several weeks before he won the 2011 championship?)

Unlike some of the tainted programs run by famously devious coaches, the referees actually represent virtues fans can wholeheartedly admire. Their mission is to administer fairness in a cutthroat environment where both sides are ceaselessly angling for an unfair edge. Standing up for noble principles in the face of derision and abuse, the ref would seem to be exactly the kind of stalwart figure, the fearless sheriff laying down the law in Tombstone territory, that Americans normally applaud.


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