Tuesday, July 29, 2014

March madness is a slam dunk

I am a man of tradition. Every year around the middle of March, my daily routine is always the same. To some, the terms “Selection Sunday,” “The Big Dance” and “bracketology” sound like alien vernacular.

But to me, all of the madness — March Madness, that is —makes sense. To those confused by these terms, they refer to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

For sports fans, it is hard to find a sporting event more intriguing and rewarding than the 68-team, single elimination tournament that the collegiate basketball’s playoff system offers. We love the fact that you cannot have an “off” game. For your team to win the title, there are no complicated requirements, no mention of home-field advantage, no unnecessary reliance on statistics not directly correlated to success, such as point differential.

All they have to do is shut up and win.

Fans love that. We love the fact that at any given game, an unsung school like Lehigh University or Norfolk State University can knock down powerhouse programs like Duke University and the University of Missouri. And although Liberty did not make it past the first round of this year, that does not stop the Flames faithful from thinking about that one day when we inevitably get a crack at slaying a giant.

Brackets — No matter how frustrated basketball fans get year after year, filling out the March Madness brackets is a tradition for almost everyone. Photo credit: Andrew Woolfolk

The sports nerd in me could go on and on about why March Madness is the best playoff system in American sports. There is “One Shining Moment,” the corny yet emotionally-charged video montage at the end of every tournament. There is the cutting of the nets, the post-game handshake and the filling out of the brackets.

Yes, those frustrating, dream-quashing brackets. Every year, it seems like we fill them out with the highest of expectations, only to crumple them up just a few hours after the tournament has begun. Sure, there are more than nine quintillion — that is a nine with 18 zeroes behind it, for those who are curious — possibilities for a bracket to turn out, but that does not stop us from getting a little cocky about our prognosticating prowess.

March Madness has no glaring flaw, like other playoff systems. Major League Baseball has the bizarre home-field advantage rule in the World Series. The NBA lets in too many teams. Personally, I have never found a college football fan who would say the BCS is the pinnacle of human achievement. And though the NFL is the closest to matching the magic of March, it still seems too easy for a team to get on a hot streak near the end of the season and steal the trophy.

March Madness is the only tournament that gets devout, casual and even non-sports fans to sit down, look at a piece of paper with teams strewn across with a jagged group of lines and spend the next 10 minutes or so filling it out.

So, as you sit back for the next few weeks, watching the tournament come to a close with your bracket resting right beside you, do not get discouraged if your team loses or your bracket gets destroyed. Next year, another bracket will be out, and you will almost assuredly be sucked back into the system, no matter how many games you have predicted wrong before.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is true madness.

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