‘March Madness’…What other college sporting season event has a moniker like that? One that is so wildly recognizable by fans and non-fans alike as the premiere college basketball competition? One that has millions of men and women of all ages glued to their TV’s or mobile devices for three weeks, often missing work, postponing family commitments? Many of these followers are people that never watch a professional basketball game and they didn’t attend any of the colleges playing… Yet they are hooked. As popular as college football may be, there is no comparison. Wallethub estimates that the loss of corporate productivity will amount to approximately $1.9 billion because of this hoops obsession! What is it ‘madness’, and why do so many people revel in it?
Let’s start with the basics. The first men’s NCAA basketball tournament was kicked off March 17th 1939. In that original tournament there were only 8 teams, and Ohio State claimed the 1st victory 10 days later. Fast forward to 2017 and there are 68 teams in the tournament, a fairly elaborate selection process to get those coveted spots, and the tournament will last 3 weeks this year. Lastly, the actual phrase ‘March Madness’ was 1st coined in 1982 by sportscaster Brent Musberger during his telecast.
So, what drives this fervor? Well there is the gambling of course…It is reported that 10% of the US population will feed the Las Vegas coffers about $100 million, second only to the Super Bowl for wagering on a sporting event. Of course that doesn’t even include the thousands of office or neighborhood pools that spring up during the tournament. But is that really what drives this obsession with college ball? I think not. Most folks are not wagering enough to get rich, or enough to get into big financial trouble. It certainly can add to the excitement, but it is not the cause of the excitement in most cases. These wagers on the line are not what is driving everyone to watch the games, and the highlights, and then chat for hours at the watercooler. Most just folks want to part of ‘IT’-the greatest show on hardwood.
So, what makes ‘IT’ ‘it’?
Well, the pace is frantic for a start! Many games are compressed into a relatively short period of time. Brackets open, close, teams in or out in the blink of an eye. And the games themselves, often very unpredictable – top seeds are eliminated early and an underdog is rising! How will this all end! This certainly appeals to a society that thrives on fast paced and constantly updating information.
But yet, there is more below the excitement…
There is the spirit, the young talent and the unadulterated love of the game that shines from the players. There is the hope and opportunity for every player to make their mark on the world stage. The players are certainly talented but they’re not professionals, they’re not seasoned and they are not jaded by ongoing contract negotiations and deals. They put everything out on the court with passion and sometimes make mistakes. There’s no million dollar contracts on the line, but there is the opportunity to be that small-town hero on a big stage. There is that chance to be the player everyone is talking about at the water cooler the next day. Perhaps only the Olympics showcases the amateur athlete in the same way. Work hard at a sport you love, and then play your heart out.
Enjoy the madness while it lasts everyone!