It’s that time of year again—time for the NCAA basketball playoffs, otherwise known as “March Madness.” “March” because it happens during the month-long drought of the annual sports season rotation—right between football ending and baseball beginning. And “Madness” because of the hectic single elimination tournament schedule and because nearly 90 percent of those sports-starved “fans” watching it have no idea which teams are any better than any other.
Let’s get something straight from the git go: Nobody really cares about college basketball. Football is different. Football embodies the spirit of the colligate experience—rooting and cheering for your favorite team either in person at the stadium or in some sports bar with Buffalo Wings and an endless supply of Bud Light. It also encourages people to wear a school’s colors on game day and to attach simply ridiculous accoutrements to their vehicle for four whole months each year.
What’s more, college football enlists just as many fans (in these parts, at least) who barely finished high school, let alone set foot in any room on their team’s campus that didn’t have a toilet within five feet of the door. As a result, merchandising sales go through the roof and all of a sudden your college basketball team gets new uniforms from “anonymous supporters.”
You see, football is a game Joe Six-Pack can sink whatever teeth he has left into. It’s rough, dirty, spiteful and easy to follow because all the games happen on Saturdays during the fall. And, since you’re not limited to liking a non-existent alma mater, choosing a favorite team can be as subjective as whichever one you and your friends dub as “bad ass” or the one mama and them like the most.
College basketball is different. The game is fast and confusing, so it’s hard to follow. There are too many games in a season and they fall on varying days of the week, so it’s hard to follow. And, the coach wears a suit like a college professor for Pete’s sake, so it’s hard to follow. In fact, basketball, on the college level at least, is reserved for smart fans.
That’s why most people can’t tell you who won last night’s game at any time during the season—with the possible exception of their own alma mater. However, when March rolls around and there aren’t any other sports to watch on the tube, we all suddenly become experts on college basketball.
The office pool kicks in and for a mere $5 a blank set of brackets is laid before you like a jigsaw puzzle of possibilities for your choosing. Thank goodness the starting teams are listed on each side of the page or we wouldn’t even know which ones are contending in the first place.
With pencils poised, we think about the teams we’ve heard people talk about (UNC, Kentucky, Florida State), other teams known for their basketball prowess (UConn, Duke, Kansas), and the colleges we’ve never heard of but sound promising (Xavier, Marquette, Butler).
Like a game of “would you rather,” we rely on the limited attention we’ve paid the sports page and dumb luck to carefully predict from the 64 teams which are going to be lucky enough to eventually make it to the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4 and then the championship game itself.
Then, based solely on the chance of turning our $5 investment into a $100 payoff, we sit by the TV and pretend to truly care about college basketball for one solid month. As teams we’ve never heard of upset the corn-fed teams we thought were shoe-ins simply because of their Midwest or Northeast campus locations, our bubble starts to burst.