March Madness: Chances are you’ve caught it already
Everybody into the pool!
Like the ubiquitous brackets you and all your colleagues and classmates are scrambling to fill out, we interrupt your workday to talk about the NCAA Tournament – or, as the condition is more commonly referred to, March Madness.
It is a distinct strain of Madness, one that will strike more than 70 million Americans this year. That’s how many brackets the American Gaming Association estimates will be filled out for the 2016 tournament – roughly 1.03 million for each of the 68 participating teams.
President Obama filled out his (by comparison, Obama received 69 million votes in 2008 – the most in presidential election history). If Bill Murray fills one out, as he traditionally does, you can expect he’ll try to be the X factor for Xavier. Even fictional characters like Mr. Belding from “Saved By The Bell” are not immune from catching the Madness.
Las Vegas projects that $262 million will be wagered (legally) on the 2016 NCAA Tournament – twice the record-breaking action on Super Bowl 50. Nearly two billion dollars in wages will be lost to workers focused more on the tournament than their own to-do lists.
The big question around the country today isn’t, “Will you be filling out your bracket this year?” It’s, “Who are you picking?” We’re all doing it, whether or not we’ve seen a single bucket this entire season.
But why? Most of us can’t tell a Shocker from a Moc. We think the Sun Belt Conference is an accessories convention or that Stephen F. Austin is the Six Million Dollar Man. We don’t know jack about the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State. So why do we care?
Because sports is the ultimate reality television, and we are compelled to be part of the experience. No manufactured drama of a singing competition or a Tudor makeover or a presidential election can match the real deal of March Madness. The ongoing undercurrent of the potential underdog upset is as American as the very concept of shooting a leather ball into a peach basket itself.
That’s why we watch. And wager. And disregard work. And fill out our brackets. Because we get to watch “Rocky” and “Rudy” for real every time they tip off one of the 63 tournament games (plus the First Four play-in games).
We watch to see if Stony Brook, making the first tournament appearance in school history, can hang with Kentucky, making its record 55th. To see if Butler does it again. To see if a 16th-seeded David can knock off a top-seeded Goliath, something that’s never been done. Only seven times has a 15-seed beaten a 2-seed in the first round, and I’ve seen two of them from a courtside seat: Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997, Hampton over Iowa State in 2001. And I’ll never forget what I saw in the eyes of the winners and the losers of those games, the full spectrum of the human condition as dictated by a scoreboard.
We watch and we root and we become entranced by the heart-warming storylines that inevitably emerge – at least through the tournament’s first weekend. That’s when we meet Cinderella face-to-face and fall for her every time.
In a few weeks, the world will return to normal and Americans will get back to work. We will have reveled in a month of buzzer beaters and broken hearts. We will have been thrilled by a series of shining moments and, most likely, we will have had our brackets busted by the most unpredictable series of events. And we will have loved every minute of the Madness.
David Seigerman has two new books out this fall,
Take Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0 (Triumph Books) and
Quarterback: The Toughest Job in Pro Sports (Triumph Books),
the first ebook in the Real Football Network’s Go Deeper series.
Follow him at @dseigs18.