• Home
  • NCAA
  • The Final Four is the only semifinal that’s treated like a destination

Share & Comment:

The Final Four is the only semifinal that’s treated like a destination

UConn, N.C. State, Purdue and Alabama have earned spots in the Final Four of men’s college basketball, while UConn, N.C. State, Iowa and South Carolina have all reached the Promised Land on the women’s side.

That’s right, I called it the Promised Land. After all, banners, press releases and network shows don’t spend months promoting something called, “The Road to the National Championship Game.” Instead, it’s “The Road to the Final Four.”

The Final Four is treated as the final destination. I mean, it technically is; the kids and coaches from all four teams practice and play at the same arena. There is no “They already packed their bags!” bulletin board material because the semifinals and finals are in the same place.

The Final Four is just like the first two rounds of the tournament as well as the Sweet 16, but only four teams get to participate.

What’s my point? The Final Four is the only semifinal in sports that feels like you accomplished something as a team, player, coach and fan. You can put it on your resume if you’re a team, player or coach. You can go dancing in the streets if you’re a fan.

Nobody talks about the semifinals in Major League Baseball. OK, they do, but like Sparky Anderson, the late, great Hall of Fame manager, once said, “The World Series is fun, but the League Championship Series is a tragedy.”

Trust me, I know this because it’s been 32 years since my Pirates’ devastating loss to the Braves in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series, and I still can’t go back and watch any part of it.

I’d give anything to see the Pirates simply make the Fall Classic. It’s like what Pop Fisher once said in the movie, The Natural: “I wanted to win that pennant worse than I wanted any goddamned thing in my life. You’d think I could just this once, wouldn’t you? I didn’t care nothing about the Series. Win or lose, I would have been satisfied.

Full disclosure: I’m not sure how satisfied I’d be if the Pirates ever make the World Series and then lose, but I know I’ll be pretty darn happy the moment they clinch the National League pennant. I’ll call people on the phone. I’ll drive around in my car and honk at strangers.

That’s what I did when the Steelers made the Super Bowl following the 1995 season. I was so ecstatic when the Hail Mary pass from Colts’ quarterback Jim Harbaugh fell incomplete in the end zone (man, was that close), and I ran into the kitchen and slid on my stomach. OK, that’s what I did initially. The honking part came moments later.

I was hyped up, baby! I partied for two weeks. I felt pretty much the same way the next three times Pittsburgh made the Super Bowl.

It’s a great feeling. After all, banners, press releases and network shows spend months promoting “The Road to the Super Bowl.”

There are two teams left standing, and they battle it out for NFL supremacy in front of the entire world.

You know what my least favorite Steelers postseason game to watch is? The AFC Championship Game. To quote Sparky: “It’s a tragedy.” I just want to get through it. I barely feel like watching the Super Bowl if Pittsburgh loses in the semifinals. You’re just so close to the Promised Land, only to come up short.

But I’m not hating on men’s and women’s college basketball. The NCAA has done a great job marketing and promoting the Final Four over the past five decades or so. They make it feel like just getting that far is something, and that’s because it is. It’s a sign of a tremendous season. I think it’s cool that the winners get to wear championship shirts and hats as they cut down the net. They also get to hoist a trophy–they are regional champions, after all.

While NFL Films makes a highlight feature about the previous season’s Super Bowl, the previous season’s Final Four participants get highlighted in college basketball. 

It’s not just college basketball, either. The Final Four in women’s volleyball is a high-profile event each year, as is the Frozen Four in men’s hockey.

This is how it should be in sports. We should stop making it all a zero-sum game, where there are a bunch of losers and only one winner.

Let me just say this one last thing as a Pitt men’s college basketball fan: I want to see the Panthers make the Final Four more than I want any….well, I’m not going to be as dramatic as Pop Fisher, but I think it would be pretty cool to see just once.

I might even jump in my car and honk at strangers.


Sign up below for the latest news, stories and podcasts from our affiliates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.