Why is Everyone So Mad About March?

Anna Messer, ’15

NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, known more informally as March Madness or The Big Dance, is the most popular college sports tournament in America. Sixty-eight teams participate in the tournament, thirty-two of them earn automatic bids for winning their respective conferences and the other thirty-eight are chosen by the Selection Committee. The start of the tournament is marked by “Selection Sunday,” which takes place in mid-March right after the conference tournaments have ended. On “Selection Sunday,” a nationally televised event, the sixty-eight teams are divided into four regions: Midwest, East, South, and West.

Each region has sixteen teams that are seeded with one being the best and sixteen being the worst. The teams are matched up so that for the second round the highest ranked teams play the worst ranked teams. This means the one seed played the sixteen seed, the two seed plays the fifteen seed, and so on. This is the second round because four regions, with sixteen teams in each region, means there are only sixty-four teams. The first round, then consists of four “play-in” games. After the first round four teams are eliminated, leaving sixty-four to fill the bracket for the second round. After the second round thirty-two teams are left and after the third round sixteen teams are left. The rounds after the third are alliterative with the number of teams left. For instance, after the third round comes the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight, then the Final Four. When the conference reaches the Final Four, the teams that have one their regions all travel to one place for the last three games of the tournament. Before this round, the games are played all over the country. Each region holds games within its geographic area. What makes this tournament so popular is that competitors, whether they know a drop about basketball or not, can participate in bracket competitions.

Filling out a bracket is a key part of the tournament. Commonly organized in schools, workspaces, and families, the bracket competition is simple: fill out a bracket before the start of the tournament and predict how every single game will play out. Homes of online fantasy sports such as Yahoo and ESPN allow people to organize their competitions online and score them automatically as the tournament progresses, but some others prefer to do it manually. People choose winners from the more traditional view that the low seeds will take it all or because they want to support their alma mater, to the more alternative “that-team-had-a-great-mascot-I-just-knew-they were-going-to-win” approach. Mathematically there are approximately nine quintillion combinations of how a bracket can play out. This isn’t a very promising figure for those who participated in this year’s first annual Bracket Challenge where Warren Buffet promised to give one billion dollars to the person had a perfect bracket. As it happened, no one made it passed the round of sixty-four teams.

One reason I find the tournament so exciting is that I am not much younger than many of the players on the teams. For me, this gives the tournament a more personal feeling. As Ben Pickman Y1, says, “The excitement as a result of the single elimination is riveting as well as the college fandom that goes along with it.” Another thing that is so great about it is that for many players this is the highest level of their professional basketball careers, so they play their hearts out. This leads to “Cinderella stories,” which are the high seeds that beat the low seeds and ruin everyone’s bracket. One “Cinderella” team, although they only had one upset, was Mercer State, who upset Duke in the first round. Duke is recognized is one of the top basketball programs in the country, whereas a lot of people had never heard of Mercer State. And how many Mercer State players were recruited by Duke? None.

This year the Final Four came down to number one seed Florida, seven seed Connecticut, two seed Wisconsin, and eight seed Kentucky. The championship game was between Connecticut and Kentucky with the former winning the Dance. In the bracket group that I participated in, no one had either of those teams in the final. This was great for me, as I won my group for the second year in a row. As much as I would like to say that this would speak to some kind of March Madness skill of mine, it’s pretty much luck in the end. That’s why if you have never followed the tournament before, or don’t even know what a basketball is, next year you should definitely participate in the March Madness Bracket Challenge. 

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