Talking hoops: Tournament good way to start conversation

By Aaron Miller

“Have you filled out your bracket?” You have probably heard that question more than once in the past few days. The NCAA Tournament is upon us.

More than ever, I think we need the tournament. It is a chance for us to put aside our political differences and talk about basketball. I know that it is just small talk, but maybe it is a way for us to say “hello” to each other again. It is a starting point. Maybe March Madness can bring sanity to the rest of our society.

Regardless of our differences, basketball binds us together as Hoosiers. For a few brief weeks each March, we can focus on the office pool and the fortunes of our favorite team.

NCAA basketball certainly is not perfect. Over the years, college basketball has weathered gambling scandals, concerns about graduation rates and infamous examples of academic dishonesty. Despite these drawbacks, our political discourse could learn a lesson from our sporting life.

Although we might be fans of different teams, that does not stop us from talking to each other about basketball. Recently, our political differences have shut down the rational conversation. Although I am a Purdue graduate, I can still talk to IU fans. We actually share a common history, and can revel in the great moments of that rivalry. I can also respect IU’s talent and accomplishments through the years. (Sorry IU fans, it is not your year. If it is any consolation, you do have those five national championship banners hanging in Assembly Hall.) Once the tournament starts, I still root for IU and the other Indiana schools that made it into the field.

During his tenure in office, President Obama would fill out a bracket. The tournament is a starting place to find common ground. We can even use the NCAA Tournament to set aside office politics or family squabbles to talk about something else. The tournament also is a good opportunity to share Indiana’s culture and history with people who are new to our community.

Every year, the tournament is loaded with dramatic moments that are tailor-made for a conversation while waiting for the copy machine or grabbing a cup of coffee at a diner.

We can talk about an incredible last-second shot. Caleb Swanigan’s inspiring personal story is another good topic. We anguish together over bad calls from an official or questionable coaching decisions.

The first few days of the tournament provide even better discussion material than the Final Four.

During the first days, No. 12 seeds often upset the No. 5 seeds. We also learn which heavily-favored number No. 1 seed looks the most vulnerable.

During the first round, a Cinderella team with a legitimate chance of making the Final Four usually emerges. Northwestern, who has never been in the tournament before, is another team that I would like to see make a deep run.

Recent politics and its corresponding breakdown of civil dialogue has driven a dangerous wedge into our society.

Perhaps basketball, even if for just a few weeks, can bridge that divide.

When we do not know what else to say, perhaps we should talk about basketball. Good luck with your bracket.

Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to