A friend last week remarked that Thursday --the day last week that marked the real start of March Madness-- is reported by some news outlets to be the least productive office day in many parts of America. Supposedly Thursday before rivals Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as the biggest blow off day of the year. Lucky for me, my boss was in Hawaii.
Regardless of productivity and The Man’s expectation of us at work, March Madness represents the greatest pure sports experience of all the major televised sporting events out there. You probably think that I'm blowing smoke, or am perhaps just over-excited about the success of my own March Madness bracket. Hardly that.
But I’m no armchair Skip Bayless. It's true: March Madness is the best representation of everyday life bottled into the exhilaration of sports, in its purest form. Compared to football, hockey, basketball, and baseball, the NCAA tournament represents the only time of the year in which observers can, year after year, witness frustrations and hearbreak along side miracles and the emergence of several Cinderella stories.
In 2013, surprises have come from the outset as they always do. So far we’ve seen Harvard eliminate Number 3-seed New Mexico and UNLV, a major basketball institution, go home early. Florida Gulf Coast University, --a school that we’ve never heard of, but one that is probably situated on the Florida gulf coast somewhere —beat Georgetown, a storied powerhouse who have made the Sweet 16 eleven times and the championship game four times.
And LaSalle, known usually as the fifth best team in Philadelphia, is the only Philly squad left and will be facing Wichita State in a slot that was supposed to feature Number 1 Gonzaga plus a big school like Wisconsin.
Compare this scenario with the college football Bowl Championship Series, also known as the BCS. The BCS is a work-in-progress system in which only very large schools from very powerful conferences can book a ticket to the national championship game. Big schools like Oklahoma State, who dare to lose one game in a season, get punished simply for not being in the Big Ten or SEC. And, if you are prosperous in a weird part of the football map, like Boise State --a successful, exciting ball team that has won 84 games and lost only 8 since 2006-- forget it.
Ultimately, only the elite, big-money powerhouse members of the club can have a chance, and that’s how they want it. Everyone in sports complains about the college football being jilted, unusual, boring, and unfair, while the powers that be balk at the idea of a playoff system, which is something that exists in every other sport.
That said, playoffs in any sport don’t necessarily guarantee variety or excitement either. In Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees, baseball’s biggest and richest club, have played in 40 World Series matchups and have made the post-season every year except one since 1994, usually dominating it. Across the pond, the Yankees’ big money brethren, Manchester United, has won 19 Premier League Titles in 23 years with few other clubs contesting their dominance more than once in a blue moon. Similarly, the NFL and NBA have had their own dynasties such as the Patriots, Packers and Bulls, Heat and Lakers, respectively.
Princeton fans don't care about being seen on TV. They don't care if Jack Nicholson is in the house. They're there just to taunt Harvard.
Meanwhile Tiger Woods has risen from the dead to potential dominance (again) in golf, while Serena Williams tops the world tennis rankings just like she did a decade ago.
Anyone who thinks that sports are basically fixed and that The Illuminati have it all planned out should watch the basketball in March to have their hopes in mankind revived. The Illuminati have the same problems guessing the right picks from their country club Madness pool, just like you do.
Only during March Madness will you see a Lehigh knock off a Duke, or a Bucknell best Kansas. Likewise, small schools like Butler can play in the Final, as they did two years in a row in 2010 and 2011, while their big in-state rivals, the legendary Indiana Hoosiers stay home. Yet, the magnificence of this phenomenon is only one side of the story.
Lick it Up: Even the members of Kiss can appreciate the pure nature of March Madness and the fan/sports relationship.
Just as impressive is the way March Madness excites us. Fans don’t come out in droves to see celebrities on the court or gawk at the players’ supermodel girlfriends. And they don’t paint their faces and wear goofy wigs just to be seen or make a public statement. I hardly think there’s a market for a TV show like “The Real Fans of Cameron Stadium” simply given the fact that all Duke fans care about during this time of year is supporting the Blue Devils and chirping about Coach K. While the substance, enthusiasm and the bling are there, the pilot wouldn’t last beyond April.
The truth is that March Madness reveals our need to get excited about sports just for the hell of it. For dedicated hoops fans, it’s like celebrating your birthday every day for an entire month. For those who normally don’t follow the scores and weekly roundup, it is a chance to feel the fury of a last minute win while tagging along for a ride with a team of amateur players who aren’t in it for the money but just in it for the glory of winning it all, even once.
The cynical minds who believe that, like all other televised sports, March Madness is just money, TV ratings, and Nike commercials miss the point. Worse yet, they miss what March Madness does to stoke the human spirit.
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