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We need more March Madness in Minnesota. Basketball is a respite of optimism, camaraderie and possibility amid society's strife. It doesn't matter who you're for during March Madness or if you ever played the game. People relate. Civility wins. That's why Minnesota should get a head start on March Madness each December with a Basketball Minnesota Day.

As a 7-year-old, I fell in love with the sweat, elation and tears of basketball and the NCAA Tournament in 1977. My mother and Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire were matchmakers through the dim screen on our family's three-channel TV. As a teacher, writer and Marquette grad, my mom loved words, the grab-you stories they built, and life's scrappers. Coach McGuire's team encompassed all three. McGuire was a philosopher and a human pop-a-shot of aphorisms, including: "Life is what you allow yourself not to see," "we rush for the stars as we crawl to our graves" and "always congratulate the temporary."

I imagine what today's mediascape would have done with that tournament and team. Marquette entered the tournament with seven losses — the most ever, barely making it to the national championship. At age 48, McGuire upped the drama in December when he announced that he would quit coaching at season's end. After two near-losses in the tournament, he sobbed inside the Omni in Atlanta as the seconds ticked off Marquette's championship victory over perennial powerhouse North Carolina. Listening to Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg and Billy Packer narrate the game on NBC, I gulped the emotion, teamwork, skill and drama that basketball offers. Although I last wore a basketball uniform as a St. John's University team member, I still drink from the game's fountain.

Today, in hoops parlance, Minnesota has the big mo or momentum. Despite hand-wringing over college name, image and likeness (NIL) payments and the transfer portal, so much good is occurring in Minnesota basketball. Just replay Minnesota State Mankato men's coach Matt Margenthaler's pre-championship media conference, during which he pauses, chokes up and describes how grateful he is to get 40 more minutes with his team. Rewind and watch the unadulterated expressions of joy and love between the Mankato women's coach, Emilee Thiesse, and her players after winning their national championship and dousing one another with water. Look at the Gopher women's team, which played for a WNIT championship, and the Gopher men's team, whose surprise wins seeded anticipation for next season. Between the men's and women's NCAA Division I tournaments this year, nearly 60 Minnesotans played on tourney teams, including standouts Paige Beuckers at Connecticut, Tessa Johnson at South Carolina and high-flying Camden Heide at Purdue.

This beautiful game has grown so much in our state, and a Basketball Minnesota Day would help propel it further. If held each December before college and high school teams get into their conference schedules, the day would give Minnesotans an early start on March Madness. Such a daylong hoops festival, rotating between Minneapolis and St. Paul and perhaps other cities, would feature male and female teams from the smallest high school class up through our junior colleges to NCAA Division III and II, culminating with the state's marquee games featuring the state's NCAA Division I teams playing each other — the Gophers and Tommies.

With the University of St. Thomas move to NCAA Division I, our state could have four teams playing in the Big Dance when St. Thomas becomes eligible to qualify for the NCAA Division I tournament in 2026-27. The U-St. Thomas matchups would showcase our state's highest level of college basketball and in-state kids who play for these schools. It would give the Gophers and Tommies a large audience to help launch their seasons, show both programs to future in-state recruits and build a new sports tradition in Minnesota. Other great public vs. Catholic hoops tradition games include Wisconsin vs. Marquette, Cincinnati vs. Xavier and Nebraska vs. Creighton.

We have the arenas to house these games. The U's and St. Thomas' marketing departments could figure out sponsors and a media partner. All colleges in Minnesota are facing demographic challenges for students. The Basketball Day high school games would provide promotional venues for them. UnitedHealthcare, part of United HealthGroup (UHG), is a sponsor of Tommie athletics. UHG is a $477 billion company with an image and reputation needing resuscitation. Here would be an opportunity for it to use some silver dollars for good in its home state. Its sponsorship could buy tickets for kids who could never access such an opportunity and support basketball clinics for young people. Best of all, such a day would be fun for thousands of fans.

Yes, the University of Minnesota has balked at playing St. Thomas. Yes, they play in vastly different athletic conferences. Still, the positives of matching up to put an exclamation point on a daylong state basketball celebration far outweigh the negatives. It has been said basketball is life. Life is change. Basketball has given so much to so many here. As basketball's new era rises, we should embrace it and continue building this great game, and all it offers through a Basketball Day Minnesota.

Eric Schubert lives in West St. Paul.