IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN. Sharpen your pencils, fill out your brackets and get ready to cheer for players and schools you’ve never heard of because March Madness is back! This tournament might just be the most exciting three weeks on the sports calendar so let’s take a look at some of the reasons its so damned entertaining.
1. Big Stage Nerves
The players in this tournament are all good — some are great. There are a few are stars, but one thing they ain’t is accustomed to is playing on a stage this big.
Outside of a few big-time programs that regularly play on television or in NBA arenas, most of these kids have never played in a nationally-televised game before, and all the cameras and reporters and attention can have a detrimental effect on shooting percentages.
Fouling at the end of the game to get the ball back is a legit strategy in March Madness games, even a guy with a season 85 percent from the line will miss big shots down the stretch.
Or a guy who has hardly played any big minutes will suddenly be lighting it up and carrying his team to victory. You never know what you’ll get when the cameras come on. Air balls, missed dunks, errand passes, guys calling timeout when they’re out of timeouts. Expect the unexpected.
2. Pure Emotion
While NCAA is making millions off these kids and it isn’t quite “sport at its purest,” during tournament games you see a whole gambit of genuine emotions on the faces of players, coaches, parents and fans. Tears of joy after victory, uncontrollable sobbing after defeat, pure elation and wide-mouthed grins, nail-biting, eye-covering tension, you can even see it on the faces of the band members—even if they only want the win to get another weekend off school. Most players in this tourney know they aren’t ever going pro — they harbor no delusions — this is as big as it gets for them and they leave it all out there on display.
It’s refreshing, after watching pros sulk and whine and act selfish, to see people play purely for the love of the game—and a free education.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the basketball players who have come to the arena to demonstrate their athletic prowess. There are cheerleaders there to flip and tumble and cartwheel, too. Plus shake pompoms and nice while they do it.
These girls aren’t only fit, they’re ambassadors for their school — sometimes better ones than the basketball teams! They always look great in the school’s colors and with the name emblazoned across their chests.
Is it any wonder nearly every commercial cutaway includes a shot of one of the team’s cheerleaders? I don’t doubt there are some fans out there watching more for the shots of the cheerleaders that any game action. And frankly, who could blame them?
4. The Ridiculous Nicknames/Mascots
From the Hilltoppers to the Movin’ Mocs; the Boilermakers to the Ragin’ Cajuns this tournament is awash in ludicrous and often inexplicable school nicknames. How many of us have watched one of these games and wondered aloud: What’s a Tarheel? Or a Sooner? Or a Hoosiers? And some of the nicknames aren’t even the least bit intimidating: The Ducks, the Gophers, the Banana Slugs who self-applies these names? Hell, a number of schools are named after colors: The Crimson, the Cardinal, the Mean Green—an improvement but still not instilling fear in the hearts and minds of opponents. Or worse still, teams named after flowers, fucking flowers! But I suppose a flower is at least more original than being just another group of Bulldogs or Wildcats or Tigers.
5. Office Pools
Who doesn’t like money? Especially free money that used to belong to your co-workers? This tournament was designed for office pools and the unpredictability make it nearly impossible to handicap, so practically anyone can pick the winners, and when you’ve got money on the line every game becomes exciting.
Gambling and office pools are no doubt a big part of this tournament’s popularity. How popular? They’ve even invented a word for dubious bracket advice provided by so-called experts: Bracketology—the science of breaking down brackets. Plus each weekend offers a chance for a re-do where you can make new picks based on which teams have advanced so even if your bracket gets busted on the opening day you can still win some coin. And don’t worry, there’s no need to feel bad gambling on these games since making money off these kids without them getting any of it is kind of what college sports are about.