The celebrations have just now eased in Fairfax, Westwood, Baton Rouge and Gainesville, and the tone has changed from unrestrained joy to "How can I take out another loan to get tickets for Indianapolis?"
Since almost nobody in those cities saw this windfall coming, they are now confronted with decisions of instant poverty, which tells you just how much making Billy Packer feel bad about himself matters to some folks.
Thus, the good people at George Mason, UCLA, LSU and Florida have not yet come to grips with the real damage they have caused by overachieving/bamboozling the experts.
Indeed, we are now filled with a nation full of defrocked experts, staring into the face of their own inadequacy and whining that the planets have fallen out of alignment. Bracketology is now as useful as astrology.
Now they're not leaving the public eye, these experts. They are still there in your faces, filling your television sets and making you wish Junior Soprano had busted out of the joint, grabbed his pistol and seen the face of Pussy Malanga in all of them. But their slack-jawed befuddlement in the face of this Final Four turns out to be every bit as annoying as their ceaseless proselytizing for Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, Villanova and all the other power schools in the power conferences who didn't achieve their God-given place in the final weekend.
In other words, we're not sure if smug actually plays better than shoulder shrugs, but we know it isn't much worse. Maybe it's their faces, period.
The next body blow to the sanity of the tournament comes in the annual argument over who is seeded where. This is the topic that fills the airwaves, newspages and even the coaching offices in 100 or so Division I schools every year from Feb. 15 until Selection Sunday -- finding the subtle differences between being a three seed and a four, playing the sub-regional in St. Louis rather than Nashville. You know, the high-octane nonsense that drives the season through the hard times before the conference tournaments.
Now it turns out seeding isn't as important as everyone thought, that dreamers can do more than dream, that being the 11 doesn't mean a second-round loss to the 3 every time, which renders all the blather between Valentine's Day and March Madness ... well, to be pointless? What do we do with all that free time? Work more productively? Play with our kids? Reconnect with our spouses? Are you kidding?
And finally, what of the true, fundamental damage to the tournament -- the realization that nobody can win the office pool this time, not even the receptionist or mailroom dweeb who usually wins it?
The NCAA big hats will deny this, but the most important development in the tournament is the bracket itself. Its elegant symmetry, its sharply defined lines, its appeal to the purely linear world in which we live.
Oh, and the fact that you can gamble with it.
The tournament is a national phenomenon because of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and the fateful words, "Got five bucks for the pool?" Every red-blooded American office worker, tavern dweller and regular folk wants a piece of the action, dreaming of that $350 windfall that will change their lives for about 45 minutes. It's perfect entertainment.
Only nobody's winning this time. Nobody has all four teams, and most folks have none at all. That means in most pools, the winner has already been determined, which means in turn that there is one less reason to watch, and for the casual gambling fan who is less interested in the game that his or her own sheet ... well, what's the fun in watching now?
Yes, what we had before is now is a basketball tournament, one in which the highest-rated team, UCLA, played three good minutes of offense out of the last 80 and won twice anyway. You'd think that would offer fascinating tactical possibilities, and it does, only for many folks, tactical possibilities are the least of their concerns. This is supposed to be a national holiday of sorts, an amusement vehicle for the bettor in all of us. Now it's good clean fun for the whole family ... and frankly, who needs that?
So we'll see what the NCAA does with a basketball tournament with all the frills stripped off it. A tournament without smart guys, without arguments over seeding, without gambling ... without everything we have come to expect from the tournament.
Hey, maybe we'll like it better. It has the glory of surprise, the emotion of the gratified underdog, everything we say we like.
Now we'll see if we actually do what we say. And if not ... well, we'll just blame it on George Mason. And Billy Packer. I mean, that's what he's there for, right?