It’s almost NCAA Tournament time. That means that everyone – from rabid sports fans to that lady in your office who thinks all the players are cute – is about to become a basketball junkie for the next few weeks. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why this happens, but we’ve got a few ideas. And none of them are better than these nine things that make March Madness the greatest sports time of the year.
One of the best parts about March Madness is getting behind that small school who doesn’t understand that they’re not supposed to win as they run wild on basketball blue bloods. This phenomenon pretty much turned Gonzaga into a legitimate national power. We’ve seen the same thing happen with Butler in recent years, and last year Florida Gulf Coast dunked their way through the tournament and made everyone watching want to go to school there. It’s incredibly fun to watch something blow up like that, and hey, let’s face it, rooting for the underdog is what America is all about.
8. Hating Duke
Of course, every underdog needs a big, bad giant to topple. And it really, really helps when that big, bad giant is also a flaming asshole. David had Goliath, The Karate Kid had Johnny Lawrence and every basketball fan with a soul has Duke. They are the rich, asshole frat that nobody likes. They represent every rich kid and trust fund brat that you hated growing up. That means that every game they play becomes a visceral experience for everyone, Animal House played out on the hardwood. Of course, that means that they’re actually really, really good, but that’s part of the fun of it. Besides, it’s just too easy to hate a team like that coached by a dude who looks like the villain in a Humphrey Bogart World War II flick.
Part of the genius of the tournament is its format. You’ve got 64 teams (or close enough, anyway) and that neatly breaks down into an easy to understand bracket format, which then becomes the tournament’s secret for success. That’s because it gets everybody involved. Diehards carefully pick who they think is going to win, while casual fans pick whichever school has the best mascot or the coolest uniforms. Regardless of how people fill out their brackets, it gives them a stake in the tournament. It becomes a giant national lottery. Sure, it’s irritating when someone wins because they thought the coach of the championship school was “the most handsome,” but even that is just a reminder that come tournament time, anything can happen, and anyone’s bracket can win.
6. Opening Round Frenzy
Thanks to a combination of factors – rooting on underdogs, the easily to follow brackets, amongst others – the opening round of the tournament is arguably the most exciting one of them all. There are multiple games going on all the time, which means that somewhere there is some tiny school winning on a buzzer beater or a basketball superpower getting taken down by a bunch of Ivy League nerds. It’s guaranteed drama, and it’s a ton of fun. Everyone’s brackets are still alive, every team has a chance, and again, anything can happen. Even if it does give Gus Johnson a heart attack.
5. Ditching Work
Thanks to that opening round frenzy, those first days of the tournament become something akin to a quasi-national holiday. Sure, nobody’s just going to tell you it’s okay to take the day off, but people tend to be a little more relaxed if you linger by the TV during your lunch hour or spend the afternoon high-fiving your coworkers and taunting your boss because your school beat his. Okay, the taunting the boss thing probably isn’t the best idea, but the point is that the whole country just kind of chills out and allows itself to have fun for a few days every March and that’s a wonderful thing.
4. Sudden Death
One of the biggest things the tournament has going for it is that every game is single elimination. There are no second chances. Win and you move on. Lose, and the whole world gets to see you crying on national TV before you get on the bus back home. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good of a season you had, if you slip up just once, that’s it, you’re done. It’s high drama, and it’s what separates March Madness from just about everything else in sports. Sure, there are probably more thorough ways to determine the best of the best, but here’s a dirty little secret: nobody really cares who the best team is. They just care about that one team that can get hot at the right moment and set the whole world on fire.
3. Unlikely Heroes
Every year, one or two players come out of nowhere to become household names. Just a handful of games – a half dozen at best – can make you into a superstar. That makes for compelling television. Who’s going to step up when the lights are shining the brightest? There’s nothing more American than that. It’s true reality TV at its finest, and you don’t even have to listen to obnoxious judges or watch the Kardashians make fools of themselves.
2. Backing Your School
As fun as the tournament is every year, it gets kicked up a notch when your school happens to be involved. Take everything that I’ve already talked about and then add a personal rooting interest into the mix. It’s insane, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. But even if your school doesn’t hang around long, part of the fun of the tournament is adopting a school – it doesn’t matter the reason – and then backing them until the bitter end. Of course, once or twice in a lifetime, that ending actually ends up being glorious, and nothing can beat that. Unless of course you’re a Duke grad, in which case I can only assume you can only find true happiness from paying bums to fight or slapping orphans around.
1. The Cheerleaders
God bless America, and God bless March Madness.
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NCAA basketball image: Andy, Flickr
Duke image: LUIS BLANCO, Flickr
Sports bar image: Randen Pederson, Flickr
Temple cheerleaders image by Aspen Photo/Shutterstock