March Madness: A love/hate relationship

Why it’s impossible to resist the madness

(Chad Cooper/ Flickr Commons)

(Chad Cooper/ Flickr Commons)

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its annual March Madness basketball tournament take over the sporting world (and my life) every spring. The tournament consists of 68 of the top American university basketball teams playing games across the U.S., all of them vying for a trip to Indianapolis and a chance to cut down the nets as national champions. Alongside the action on the hardwood, millions of people around the world spend weeks obsessively researching before compiling brackets, which they can submit to ESPN, TSN and many other sports organizations in the hopes that their choices will net them a lot of money.

Every year I tell myself that it will be different, that this time I won’t get sucked in. I won’t constantly check game updates on my phone or pretend to pay attention in class while I look up scouting reports. Every year I tell myself that I will remain immune from the whirlwind that is March Madness, and every year I lie. Three days before the tournament began on March 17, I caved. I scoured the Internet for any and every statistic I could find. I weighed almost every team’s national rankings against their offensive efficiency, looking at strength-of-schedule ratings until my eyes hurt.

In the 64-year history of the tournament, there is no record of anybody choosing a perfect bracket. When I was finally done, I had manically convinced myself that I, Cameron Doherty, had crafted perfection. That feeling lasted exactly two games.

When the unheralded team from Georgia State defeated highly touted Iowa State, my fevered dreams of perfection, along with 99 per cent of the 11.5 million brackets registered with ESPN, were busted. I couldn’t even be angry. This game was the ultimate encapsulation of what makes March Madness the perfect title for the tournament. A team full of unknown players had done the impossible. Georgia State came back from a double digit deficit with less than two minutes remaining to shock the basketball world.

Only a few other major sporting events employ a single game elimination format like March Madness does. This format causes an amount of chaos unseen in most other tournaments. Teams that have dominated all year long can have a single bad night and watch a hard-fought season go up in flames.

The odds of a knowledgeable college basketball fan creating a perfect bracket are one in 128 billion, according to mathematics professor Jeff Bergen on DePaul University’s YouTube channel. So, perhaps I should be content with the fact that I have called three-quarters of the games right so far. But when next year rolls around I, and millions of others, will again be dreaming of perfection.

So if your bracket is just as busted as mine is, why should you keep watching? Because no other sporting event consistently delivers as many dramatic moments as March Madness. From the epic battles between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to small school underdog teams defeating the Goliaths of the basketball world, March Madness consistently delivers the must-watch television moments that define what I love about sports. This year’s tournament has already delivered its quota of dramatic moments and with the upcoming final four game on April 4 and the championship game on April 6, it promises even more.

Whether you are rooting for an underdog, cheering for a favourite like the undefeated University of Kentucky, or keeping an eye on the next generation of NBA stars, March Madness has something every sports fan can enjoy.