When you grow up in a cold-weather city like Chicago, March is a big deal. You jokers who were raised in places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Miami will never be able to fully appreciate what Spring means to those of us who have just endured months of frigid temperatures, snow pants and seasonal depression disorder.
When I was a kid, March traditionally meant a week off from school (Spring Break), my birthday (the 25th), and the greatest sporting event of the year—the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament. Now, two decades removed from my sports-obsessed younger days, as a married man, father of a newborn baby girl, and living down the road from Venice Beach, CA, I still maintain that the best, most exciting, most anticipated sporting event of any calendar year is the Madness of college basketball’s post-season.
Here are some reasons why March Madness is worth the hype:
The Brackets. It does not matter how much you know about college basketball. It does not matter how much college basketball you watch. You don’t have to be able to pick a university’s mascot out of a lineup. You, your friends, your crazy uncle, your co-workers (of either sex) can take three to five minutes and fill out a bracket and instantly become an “expert” on college basketball. Whether playing for the love of the game, or a modest sum of money, having a March Madness bracket to call your own is a golden ticket to hours of compelling, camaraderie-filled fun. And it is usually the people who know the least about the sport that end up winning the office pool. It’s for everyone to enjoy.
Meritocracy. In a nation increasingly built on Participation Trophies and led by parents who ask umpires to turn off the scoreboard of their child’s Little League game if the run differential is too high, March Madness offers no rest for the emotionally weak and weary. The games happen in bunches. The victorious team moves on. The loser goes home. Coaches make their players shake hands afterward regardless of how they’re feeling. A champion is crowned. There are more than enough opportunities in our culture for “dialogue” and “compromise,” but March Madness—mercifully—isn’t one of them.
Cinderella and Her Underdog. Every single year there are small, out-of-the-way schools that get the chance to match up against the most elite programs in the nation and pursue basketball glory. The various rounds of the March Madness tournament are spread out around the nation and typically feature schools from nearly every state in the Union. Last-second, buzzer-beating shots take relatively unknown colleges, coaches and players from obscurity to fame (and potentially fortune) quicker than you can say, “Send it in, Jerome.” Americans do love a winner, but the only thing they love more is an underdog.
Less Time for Media Nonsense. The structure for the March Madness tournament is such that the bulk of the games come in rapid succession on successive weekends, unlike, say, the NFL or NBA’s playoff schedules where days—if not weeks—separate the action. In the modern age of 24-hour sports television, radio and social media, by the time a professional playoff games actually takes place the average fan is ready to walk into oncoming traffic. College football may be the worst, with sometimes more than a month of blathering, dissecting, DUI arrests and Twitter apologies between the regular season and the championship games. March Madness is an onslaught of activity and excitement. And because there are more teams participating, the media can’t make us hate them all with its penchant for over-coverage.
My list could, and does, go on.
- No (or very little) chance of a Deflate Gate scandal
- Michael Strahan has absolutely nothing to do with this sporting event
- No lame half-time shows
You’re going to hear this a lot during the Donald Trump presidency—but we can use all of the healthy distractions from politics we can get. March Madness unites, not divides. It brings people together. You might even say it makes sports great again.