Does God Care Who Wins The NCAA Tournament?


NCAA_tournamentEven the person least into sports here in the US is likely to know that the top division in men’s basketball is holding their tournament to determine the 2015 champion. We’ve fondly dubbed this time each year, March Madness.

It’s not quite as mad as it used to be. Yes, there are still upsets which scrambles everyone’s game by game predictions, but one TV network used to cover the games so there were split screens and much jumping from cheduled game to updates and even the endings of close games. The games, of course, start during the week, so working people were taping the games they most wanted to see and trying to avoid hearing final scores.

Things have changed. Cable TV is now part of the mix. All games can be viewed by whoever has that service. Or has the Internet and enough data minutes to see the games they can’t otherwise get. In other words, there’s far less scrambling, far less madness connected with seeing the games.

Still, many people put a lot into picking winners and following the games to see how well they’re doing and what chance they have of winning office pools or more. In other words, a lot of people are interested in what a bunch of college students are doing the three weeks of the tournament.

Factor in interested parties which include fellow students at the competing universities, friends and family, alumni, teachers past and present, people who live in the communities where the different schools are located. In other words, beneath the layer of unattached fans, you have a layer of attached fans.

At the core, of course, are those intimately involved with the basketball programs—players, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, cheerleaders, ball boys, those who work the games, scorekeepers, timers. People involved are invested, some to a greater degree than others.

In all this, does God care who wins the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

That question comes to mind in part because I spent thirty years as a coach—of various middle school, and then high school, girls sports teams, including basketball. Since I worked at Christian schools, we always prayed together as a team, but most often we were playing against other Christian schools which also prayed as a team.

Early on I confronted the dilemma—could I expect God to hear our prayers and not theirs if we both prayed to win the game? And if we prayed to win and yet lost, did that mean there was sin in the camp, that God was somehow displeased with us, that we had more to learn spiritually before He would reward us with a championship?

In other words, I wrestled with the issue of praying for a victory in a basketball game. In the end, I decided not to pray for wins.

The temptation is to conclude that God simply doesn’t care. Whether team A or team B wins certainly doesn’t change who He is or what He wants to accomplish. But I believe God cares about games because He cares about us.

In fact, one of the reasons I loved coaching so much was that I viewed sports as a microcosm of life. During a season of basketball, a team faces in miniature many of the things that they’ll have to deal with on a larger scope later on: adversity, success, hard work, togetherness, failure, discipline, teamwork, obedience, response to injustice, doing your best, bouncing back from not doing your best, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. Winning is sweet. But there’s so much that goes into winning, and I think God cares a lot more about those things. Ultimately, He cares more about the people than He does about the winning. Sometimes the greatest affect on a person comes from losing. In other words, some people need to lose to be the people God wants them to be. Some players need to forgive a teammate for making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. God cares more that they learn to show compassion and forgive than He does about their winning.

There’s a song that goes right to the heart of this matter. It’s called “Blessings”:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

After a catalog of other things Christians have been known to pray for, the song turns and asks in the chorus, penetrating questions:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Sports can be a training ground for young athletes, and we who are on the sidelines, or on this side of the TV, watching have no way of knowing what God is doing in the lives of those people running up and down the court. I think God cares a great deal for each one of those student-athletes, but I don’t know if that means He’ll calm a nervous heart so a young man can play up to his potential or if He’ll prompt a player to say a kind word to an opponent or allow a TV camera to distract him so he misses a key free throw.

The book of James makes a couple clear statements about prayer:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

So God wants us to ask—just not with wrong motives, not selfishly.

Does He care about who wins the NCAA Tournament? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but how the winning and losing and all that leads up to those results affects us, absolutely: God cares because He uses raindrops for His purposes. Or teardrops.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle,
Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)

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March Madness


USAirwaysCenter-2008NCAAWestRegionalWhat’s mad about watching college basketball? Here are my random thoughts about the tournament so far.

The Pac-12 has once again shown how underrated a conference they are. Too many of the media pundits fall in love with one line of thinking–this year that the Big Ten is by far the superior conference. Of all people to be the voice of reason–surprise, surprise, it’s Charles Barkley who said more than once that the teams out west don’t get the respect they deserve.

I’m looking for at least one Pac-12 team to make the elite eight.

I don’t fill out my brackets like everyone else. I pick winners round for round. I mean, if you don’t have the right two teams playing each other in round two, how can you possibly predict a winner?

Last night I finished the night 11-5. Like many others, I missed on New Mexico vs. Harvard. I saw the Lobos play in the Mountain West final and thought they looked impressive, but I remember UCLA losing to Princeton some years back, so I know it’s unwise to take an Ivy League team for granted. Of course, New Mexico may simply have been experiencing the letdown that naturally comes after achieving a goal. You feel relieved, not hungry.

I lost all three of my upset specials. I chose Bucknell over Butler, but Butler won by 12. Then I picked Montana over Syracuse, but by over 40 points the Orangemen demolished the Montana Grizzlies who didn’t have their leading scorer due to injury. My third miss was taking Valparaiso over Michigan St. I saw the Spartans play in their conference tournament and thought they could be upset. But it wasn’t to be. Michigan St. won by eleven.

The game I’m second guessing myself about is Pittsburgh vs. Wichita. I wanted to pick Wichita. I started to write them into my bracket, but then I remembered Pittsburgh’s reputation for tough defense. I went with the number eight seed, and I was wrong! Wichita pulled off the minor upset.

Glancing at today’s scores, it doesn’t look like I’ll fare quite as well with this half of the bracket. As long as UCLA wins, I won’t mind.

Yea, March Madness! 😀

Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off on March Madness  
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Wait ’till June


I’m going off topic (not fiction, not Christian worldview) today. As some of you know, the NCAA basketball tournament started this week. Normally I have quite a problem because I want to watch games, but I’m also working, and most often, as I am this year, preparing for the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.

But here’s the thing. This year, no conflict. My team of choice to cheer for is UCLA, but alas, they didn’t even finish at .500, let alone garner enough respect to be invited to March Madness. Second choice would be USC, but they didn’t even make the PAC-10 Tournament because of recruiting violations.

How about Long Beach State or Cal State Fullerton. A few years ago, CSUN (Cal State Northridge) was the local Cinderella story. Nope, none of those teams made it either.

One sort of bright spot is UC Santa Barbara. I grew up in Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos were the rivals of tiny-Christian-college Westmont where my dad taught. So UCSB isn’t really a favorite. But even though it’s a hundred miles north of LA, it’s about as good as SoCal has. Unfortunately they had a low seed and probably already lost their first round game.

So what does that leave a die-hard basketball fan like myself? JUNE and the NBA finals with the reigning league champion Los Angeles Lakers looking to repeat.

Ah, June will be good. Until then I’m (mostly) sitting out March Madness. (I think Washington is playing right now—they’re PAC-10, so I might just take a peek at that game. 😉 )

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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March Madness


I’m a basketball fan, pure and simple, so I love this time of year. I love college basketball and filling out brackets to see which teams will advance from the field of 65 to 32, into the Sweet Sixteen, then to the Elite Eight, and ultimately into the Final Four.

Wow, the basketball pundits sure tapped into alliteration as a device to promote the NCAA tournament, didn’t they?

Which makes me think about words and the way they sound together and the power of their music to make the meaning memorable. (OK, that phrase came out without me trying to use alliteration, I promise! 😉 )

Not that I think every character needs to have alliteration in his name. Uh, that might be a little hokey. But I’m wondering about the marketing end of books. Is there some way of incorporating poetic devices such as alliteration that can work subconsciously to help a reader remember and/or associate a book in a favorable way?

I don’t have anything particular in mind. Just thinking out loud.

But back to basketball. Every year there seems to be a sleeper team, a Cinderella that advances farther than anyone expected them to. None to my knowledge has made it all the way to the big dance, but that doesn’t stop the players and coaches from those smaller programs.

They think and dream and work to make it happen. And one of those low picks, a 15th seed or a 12 seed, will probably creep into the limelight again this year. They’ll have the world rooting for them and the newspapers covering their shoot arounds. They’ll squeak out a victory over a team from a power conference, one that was favored, one stocked with all Americans at every position.

How is this possible?

It’s not so different from American Idol or the publishing business. A team with ability gets to the biggest college basketball tournament, and they actually have a chance to prove that they can play.

Of course, few of those Cinderella teams are unbeaten. So what about Podunk U that beat Cinderella by fifteen points, but didn’t win their conference and therefore weren’t invited to The Tournament? Is PU therefore a stinker? 😀

OK, I’m having some fun here, but the point is, there are small schools that make a big splash, but not all capable of making a big splash get the chance to do so. So with books.

There are some surprises—books that make it big and no one really knows why. And others that ought to do well because they had the full weight of their publishers marketing department, and well, the results were less than stellar. Maybe they didn’t employ enough alliteration. 😉

The behind the scenes truth is, God is God and will do what He wills.

Which means, I may be left rooting for a team with a devote Christian as the coach and a group of guys who pray together before a game, but who get blown out by Powerhouse Team from Conference Powerhouse, led by an in-your-face player shouting into a microphone, Winning is the ONLY thing that matters.

Do I understand such things? No. I would like to see “Fair and Just” on the basketball court. I would like to see nice guys finishing first. Sometimes they do. And then it’s a party!

But most of the time, the guy who grabs a bit of jersey and holds, gets away with it. The guy hooking the defensive player on his drive to the basket also goes to the free throw line. Sports aren’t so fair.

But that’s not a reflection on God because the game ain’t over! 😉

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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