The wisdom of the aged is no good in hoops pool

March 27, 2004|By Rob Kasper

THERE COMES a time when fathers have to acknowledge that their sons have surpassed them, that they can run faster, lift more weight, hit balls farther. That is the pattern of the ages, each succeeding generation advancing over its predecessor.

But this dynamic, I thought, was not supposed to apply to picking winners in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament. Picking winners is a sedentary activity. It requires planting yourself in a chair, pondering the world, then making declarations full of self-inflated wisdom. It is, in other words, what we dads do best.

Yesterday as I looked over the brackets in the small basketball pool that I administer, I discovered a disturbing trend: the boys, who range in age from 12 to 19, were performing better than their dads. In two of the three households that sent in entries from different generations, the offspring had picked more winning teams than their fathers. Moreover, the sons were in better positions than their fathers to gain more points as the tournament played out this week. In other words, youth was triumphing over experience.

As one of the dads being bested by his son, I am not taking it well. Last week I thought I had struck a blow for my generation, when I picked 15 out of 16 possible winners in an opening round of the tournament. Yet my ungrateful 19-year-old offspring matched those picks and smoked me in the ensuing rounds. I'll remember that when it comes time to write my will.

Searching around for possible explanations of this sorry state of affairs, I first came upon a common culprit: television. These kids are watching too much television. They should be locked in the library reading Proust.

How else, other than by watching too much sports on TV, did Joey, a 15-year-old student at Eastern Tech, know that Xavier would beat Mississippi State while his dad, who works in The Sun's sports department, was clueless. How else did 12-year-old Henry, a seventh-grader at Roland Park Middle School, correctly pick that St. Joe's would defeat Wake Forest, while his father, a man of some erudition and a graduate of Yale, was left in the dark?

As for my college freshman, why, I want to know, wasn't he spending more time studying organic chemistry, rather than watching cable TV programs that told him to pick Illinois over Cincinnati? For this I pay his tuition?

I found another possible explanation for this display of primacy, their jaws. The younger generation probably has smaller jaws, thereby giving them more room in their heads for larger brains.

I came up with that explanation after reading news reports this week about a study done by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Apparently one of the things that distinguish us from the apes is our graceful jaw. The researchers found evidence of genetic mutation in humans, and this mutation coincided with the decline of strong jaw muscles in humans and the change in the shape of our skulls. Over time, a couple of million of years, our jaws got weaker and our brains got bigger.

That is my simplified version of a sophisticated, speculative scientific theory.

But I latched onto it because it fit my purpose of explaining how those whippersnappers could top their elders in the basketball pool. It is evolution. Their brains may be just a smidgen bigger than ours, but it is enough to give them the smarts to make that Nevada pick in the early rounds.

The jaw-brain connection also makes some sense on a practical level. When making a tough decision, we dads often rub our jaws. It is probably an unconscious evolutionary act. We are trying to summon up wisdom, to make a little more room upstairs.

I am sure I will be rubbing my jaw this weekend, as I work in the yard, clearing away the thatch of winter, admiring the valiant crocuses, trying to reclaim turf.

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