This is the time of year when I become obsessed with basketball. The other 11 months I don't really care about the sport. At least not as much as football, hockey, baseball, soccer, curling, et cetera. But in March I can't get enough of the game. The mid-majors, the upsets, the buzzer beaters. The MVC, the OVC, the WCC, the ACC, the Atlantic 10, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Big East. It's a relentless barrage of tension and thrills.
However, there is one thing about this time of year that threatens to give me a rage-induced conniption...
The phrase "punched their ticket," and all associated forms.
It's such a tired, worn-out, overused, out-of-date, unoriginal, uninteresting sports cliche. You hear it and read it constantly, in highlight reels and game recaps. "Florida Gulf Coast was the first team to punch their ticket," "Belmont punched their ticket for the third straight year," "Harvard punched their ticket because there's no tournament in the Ivy League," "Liberty punched their ticket despite 20 losses." Every conference tournament is another ticket punched. So many tickets. So many punches. So many times this same phrase is used.
The problem is, there's no other quick and colorful way to say "earned a berth in the NCAA tournament."
We must come up with another phrase. This level of repetition is unacceptable for a writer. Not to mention how out-of-date the phrase is. How often do you have a ticket that's punched these days? Here are some suggested replacements:
"Won a berth" is the most basic substitute. Although there's no flare to that. And in Sportswriting 101, future sports media are instructed to use as many formulaic, hackneyed expressions as possible, in an effort to make their writing appear interesting (see: "three-point land")
"Penetrated the bubble." I'm not sure this makes much sense, as most teams that win conference tourneys aren't bubble teams. But it sounds good. And kind of dirty.
"Date with 68." I like this, even though teams would technically have a date with 67 teams. It rhymes, it's catchy, and you can still use it when the Tournament expands to 128 teams.
"Cashed in." There's lots of money to be made by an NCAA appearance. And for USC's basketball program, this phrase is especially appropriate.
"Stamped their name on the bracket." Kind of long, but it's clear, active, and more up-to-date.
"Earned a slash." This can be used for teams that will be forced to go through one of the play-in games. Liberty, with their 20 losses, definitely earned a slash.
These are the humble suggestions of one sports fan who likes to write, and who hates hearing the same stupid phrases over and over again. I'm sure the truly great sportswriters out there, if there are any, can come up with something better. If only they tried to do so.