Politics & Policy

Rooting for the Underdog

Self-styled “experts” are rarely right.

Sometimes I wonder why a conservative such as myself so often roots for the underdog in sports. Aren’t we supposed to be for the big, rich, and successful? (The first two factors usually result in the third, whether you’re talking about major universities or professional sports teams in major markets.)

Maybe it is because a lot of us came from humble beginnings and remember early snubs. Or because we appreciate the power that humility so often provides in David-vs.-Goliath face-offs. Or because with unions’ becoming increasingly excessive and liberals’ placing so many of their political chips on class envy, sports gives us at least one outlet to vent our deep-seated affection for, and identification with, the “little guy.”

For me, however, there are a couple of other considerations at play here.

First, I love it when the experts are embarrassed. The basketball gurus have been spectacularly wrong this year. Among the NCAA Final Four teams, you will not see one team the experts chose to win the tournament: No Ohio State; no Kansas; no Duke; no North Carolina. What you will see in the championship game is one team that no one predicted would be in the NCAA final: the winner of the contest between “mid-majors” Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University. The experts were outraged that VCU was even invited to the tournament. Now these Rams are two games from being crowned king of the college-basketball world.

I would also point out that Butler wasn’t picked to go very far in last year’s tournament, let alone this year’s. But in Indianapolis last year, the Bulldogs ended up being one rimmed-out long three-pointer away from beating Duke in the finals. Now, again this year, they are on the cusp of basketball greatness.

The experts undoubtedly know more about college basketball than anyone, which we know  . . .  mostly because they keep telling us so. They give us a lot of fancy analysis, but their predictions are based, essentially, on how the home teams have performed in the past, mainly wins and losses. In this regard, they are kind of like stockbrokers who, as the stock market goes up, predict it will continue to go up, but when it nosedives, predict it will continue to go down.

Of course the experts don’t take into account what they can’t take into account — those factors that are always at work but which cannot be measured in the traditional sense, such as how certain kids react as the pressure increases; how they handle the cumulative fatigue; which team “wants it more”; which coach makes a bone-headed move; how individual match-ups will play out as teams substitute, rotate, and switch from zone defense to a man-to-man and back again; and, of course, pure luck, (just to name a few).

Friedrich Hayek taught us that top-down government control of our economy does not work because it cannot possibly keep up with, much less manage, the millions of economic decisions citizens make daily in a free society. Hayek must have been a fan of “underdog teams”  . . .  and it sure explains Barack Obama’s brackets, too.

— Fred Thompson, who represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003, is an actor, lawyer, and political commentator.


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