Kremmling/Larry Banman: ‘March Madness’ is more than just crowing a champion
March 17, 2008
For college basketball fans, it doesn’t get any better than this week. The NCAA tournament starts this week, with 65 teams vying to be crowned NCAA champion on April 7 in San Antonio, Texas. The whole event culminates with the cutting down of the basketball goal nets and the playing of “One Shining Moment” as CBS television replays the highlights of the games. The whole process is popularly called “March Madness.”
Although the national championship is the goal, this is one case where the journey may be better than the destination. There are a number of reasons that I think combine to make this the best sporting event of the year.
Unlike most professional sports that determine their champion with a playoff series, the NCAA tournament is a “one-and-done” affair. Your team may be having an off-shooting night, your team’s star may be the victim of questionable officiating and get into foul trouble, an underdog team may play out of its mind, it doesn’t matter ” the team with the most points at the end of one game moves to the next round and the other team is left to ponder what could have been.
That is both the allure and curse of the tournament. The team with the better record, the better athletes, the bigger name doesn’t always win. Your favorite team can win every game during the season and conference tournament and be laid to waste by some hot-shooting guard who will be working as an accountant two months after he thrusts a dagger into your partisan heart.
I think the time of year has something to do with the appeal of the tournament. Most, if not all, of us are sick of winter. We are tired of bundling up against the cold and shoveling snow that has mostly turned to ice.
In most of the country, it is still too early to start working outside in earnest and to start thinking about summer vacations. By the time we wake up on April 8, however, things will be looking brighter. The most rabid basketball fans will suddenly realize the days are longer, the temperatures are warmer and there are patches of bare earth.
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Hopefully, they won’t wake up to realize their spouse left them during “Rivalry Week” or “Selection Sunday.” Sports fans will also be happily surprised when they find out the baseball season has started.
There is also the national craze known as “filling out the tournament bracket.” It is pretty well documented that more money exchanges hands, unofficially, over the NCAA basketball tournament than for any other national sporting event.
Personally, I don’t condone gambling on amateur sporting events. However, the vast majority of the betting on the NCAA tournament is probably pretty harmless. Most of the tournament pools of which I may or may not have some knowledge, are of the $1 to $25 variety. Personally, I think the tournament pools are more about bragging rights than they are about the money.
A good friend of mine has an explanation for why basketball fans are so rabid and, many times, cross the line of good sportsmanship. Most people in America see a basketball game and quickly come to believe that they, and they alone, are expert analysts of the game. The purpose of the game is pretty straightforward, there are only 10 players and they are usually spread out enough so that you can see everything that happens. It is a game that most people can play to some degree and the rules are really not that complicated.
We all recognize traveling, goal tending and have the ability to discern a blocking foul from a charging foul. By extension, picking the winners of basketball games is something that most of us believe we can do with a high degree of accuracy. It is that basic belief upon which Las Vegas was built, but it doesn’t seem to slow us down from believing that we possess more knowledge, skill or intuition than all of our friends, family and neighbors.
As a sidenote, the money spent on office pools probably pales in comparison to the wages lost in time spent filling out brackets, talking about brackets and analyzing the results of each round of games. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would suspect the tournament as being a tool of some foreign government that is trying to catch America with its guard down.
For some, March Madness is good entertainment. It is kind of like a reality drama that unfolds over three and one-half weeks. There are heroes, a few villains, suspense, plot twists, character development and often a surprise ending. Since there are so many games, you never have to wait long before another mini-drama unfolds before your very eyes. I like the fact that each game is a do-or-die situation.
For most of the year and for most of the sports, regular season games follow a general pattern of a few hours of tap dancing, ending with a few minutes of two teams looking to land a knockout blow. The NCAA tournament has a sense of urgency that elevates the intensity of play and makes the games more compelling. For the truly addicted, there are the games and then the analysis that goes on ad nauseum. You could probably find some discussion of the NCAA basketball tournament on television or radio at any time of the day.
March Madness starts this week. Enjoy the ride.
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