Battling from the bottom up
By Suzie Kim
Gazette File Photo
GLASS SLIPPER HAS BEEN PASSED ON. The University of Nevada
Wolfpack are this year’s Cinderella story in the NCAA
basketball tournament. However, there has been a long line
of underdog’s in many sports.
There’s a word that’s been buzzing around sports bars,
gyms and the office water cooler these days, and it’s not
how you remembered it as a kid.
The modern Cinderella story has come a long way from its cultural
roots of our past. In today’s Cinderella story, there isn’t
any room for sweet romances and fairy godmothers. Instead, what
remains is sweat and determination, with a pinch of luck and a
whole lot of heart.
As the final installment of March Madness approaches, the question
on many minds is who will come out on top and who will be the next
big Cinderella story.
For the last four years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the story
of heart in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, making
fantastic efforts to overthrow many perennial powerhouses. It’s
fitting, then, that this year the glass slipper was passed on from
the second-seeded Gonzaga to a 10th- seeded underdog in the second
round. The stunning upset came as a first-time win in the tourney
for the Nevada Wolfpack, making their first appearance since 1985.
Nevada played three-seed Georgia Tech Thursday night as the only
double-digit seed to advance into the Sweet 16.
The other shocker of last weekend’s second round games came
from the fact that two of the four top seeds were eliminated by
eighth and ninth- seeded teams. The University of Alabama-Birmingham
Blazers knocked out Kentucky and moved on to face fourth seeded
Kansas on Friday. In a less surprising upset, top-seeded Stanford
was eliminated from the second round for the fifth time in six
years. The loss means the Alabama Crimson Tide will get to stay
for at least one more dance. They face defending champion Syracuse
So what exactly is the difference between a Cinderella team and
an underdog? Western men’s basketball captain Sagar Desai
explains that part of the equation is exceeding set expectations.
“[When a team] basically comes from nowhere and fights their
way to the top, they can be considered a Cinderella team,” he
Similarly, men’s basketball coach Craig Boydell claims that
very few teams can be considered as Cinderella stories.
“It’s easy to call a 10th-seeded team that gets to
a championship a Cinderella team, but you have to look into other
factors,” he explains. “If that team struggled in the
regular season and then was strong in the championships, I would
classify it as an underdog.”
Part of the phenomenon that’s attributed to the success
of Cinderella teams comes from the influence of society. “It
has a lot to do with the fact that teams are rarely expected to
exceed certain expectations. There’s a lot of pressure from
the media and other teams for them to fail, and that’s what
often fuels them to succeed. Young teams may feel a lot of pressure
but can also feed off the energy that the media and the crowds
produce,” Boydell adds.
From a captain’s point of view, Desai believes that being
an underdog serves as motivation. “To go out there with a
chip on your shoulder, getting no respect from the other teams,
the media and even your own fans [is motivating.] Fans don’t
expect you to win — they want you to win, but they never
really believe you can do it.”
Society plays a pivotal role in creating the Cinderella’s
in sports. Darwin Semotiuk, a Western kinesiology professor and
an expert on sport and culture, believes that watching an underdog
win resonates well with an audience.
“Watching the unexpected unfold stirs human interest. People
are caught up in it — they’re mesmerized by it. It
also depends on how the story is told by the media — there’s
a lot of media hype associated with [the Cinderella teams] and
the attention surrounding it.”
Semotiuk also notes the influence of gambling on cheering for
the little guy. “There’s always lots of pools with
a fair bit of gambling going on — it’s an important
part of the sporting culture.”
The underlying meaning of the Cinderella myth is that anything
is possible. There is a certain thrill in watching evil empires
fall and revolutions unfold, and sports are not very different
in these aspects.
“For the Yankees, they represent real imperial establishment.
They depend on buying the pennant every year because they have the
biggest budget,” Boydell says.
“It’s fun to see these guys who have nothing on the
line and are outmatched — talent-wise and physically — put
everything on the line. It’s like the old story of David
and Goliath,” Desai adds.
In an age where power, greed and pessimistic mantras seem to consume
the hearts of most people, the Cinderella story reminds us that
even a butterfly can flap its wings in Tokyo and cause a tidal
wave half way around the world.
The glory of watching a true Cinderella team unfold has nothing
to do with the high profile, scandalous and often overpaid world
of professional sports that dominates our culture nowadays.
The beauty of the Cinderella team is that it’s not about
the money or the power, but that one fleeting moment when all the
world seems to bow down to a force that could not be broken.