The meaning of March madness

Why do Americans go nuts for this annual basketball competition?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

March Madness is not a basketball tournament. It is an event boarding on phenomenon. Across America for four weeks, previously unknown teenagers will become household names, grown men will cry and over $1 Billion in illegal gambling money will change hands. Welcome to the most exciting event in all sport.

I am aware that I hail from America and that I am writing in a country where soccer is king, but there is simply no greater sporting event then the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

I could talk about how basketball is faster paced then soccer, that there is more scoring and all that. However, what truly makes March Madness great goes beyond just the game of basketball itself.

First, there is how it is formulated. The over 300 teams that compete in the NCAA’s Division 1 are narrowed down to 68. 31 teams automatically get in due to winning their conference tournaments while the other 37 are determined by a selection committee that chooses the best teams that did not receive automatic bids. From those 68 a bracket is formed. 68 turns into 64, 64 into 32, 32 into 16 and so on until a champion is crowned.

As soon as the bracket comes out, on which is known Selection Sunday, the obsession begins.

The 68 team field is devoured, dissected and discussed amongst every American sports fan with a pulse.

Who will win the tournament becomes the dominant topic of conversation across the country until the games begin. Here is where things get weird. The excitement surrounding the tournament is as much about correctly picking the outcome of each game as it is about the actual games themselves.

Last year over 6.45 million brackets were submitted to and that doesn’t even count the number of brackets submitted to other websites as well as the number of separate office pools across the country.

Filling out brackets becomes an addiction, I filled out 5 one year, that can only be satisfied by picking correctly.

However, the ultimate point in filling out a bracket isn’t even about being completely right, the odds of picking every game correctly are 1 in 9.2 quintillion, it’s solely about being more right than your friends.

March Madness provides a delightful reminder that there is no greater satisfaction then looking your friend in the eye after correctly calling a huge upset and smugly saying, “I told you so.”

Once the match ups are over analysed and your picks are made, the games begin.

And once they begin, nothing else matters.

The first round of games starts around noon on Thursday, meaning that a few arrangements have to be made in order to watch them. Sick days are called in, classes are skipped and family member randomly die, all just to catch the first bits of Madness. I remember taking an extremely long bathroom break during one of my classes on the first day of the tournament last year, just to sprint to the local bar across the street to catch the end of one particularly close game that could potentially ruin my bracket.

My decision to cut class probably explains the ridiculousness of March Madness the best. Even though it was just last year, I have no idea who won and I have no idea who played. All I know is that I needed one of the teams to win to salvage my pitiful bracket and there was no way I was going to miss the game. Sacrifices had to be made.

In 10 years of making a bracket I have never won my pool and there is a great chance that I never will. However I, like all Americans, will continue to immerse myself in the Madness because if by some miracle I get the most games right, as the champion lifts the trophy a centre court, I get to feel like I won too.