Welcome to March, arguably the best month for sports.
Why do I say that? Four letters: N-C-A-A.
Yep, the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament is probably my favorite sports event of the whole year, perhaps only rivaled by baseball playoffs in October when the Cardinals are involved (2006 yeah yeah!) Take a look at it: four days a week filled with games for 10-12 hours, then 12 more games over four days the next week to the reach the Final Four, capped off with two of the biggest days in sports. Delicious.
But what really makes the tourney reach sporting Nirvana is the bracket. Filling out a bracket for the tournament gives fans a rooting interest for every game. Do games such as Creighton—Florida or Indiana—San Diego State sound interesting? They do when you’ve picked one of those teams to win.
I would guess a fair majority of people in the country have filled out at least one bracket (to the percent that hasn’t: you haven’t lived yet). It’s a beautiful community thing for anyone to talk about. Hopefully, two weeks from now, when people want to start conversations they’ll ask “who is in your Final Four?” instead of “are you writing a thesis?” or “what are you doing next year?”
Yes, the bracket is crucial. Last spring I was on a long travel break when the tournament came out, but I still managed to fill out my picks in 15 minutes in the computer room of a St. Petersburg hotel. And I still got half the Final Four right (par for my course).
For me, the tournament is not about the money. I’ve filled out brackets every year since 2001, but only in the first three years of high school did I enter large pools with several hundred dollars at stake. With odds so small, I won nothing.
What keeps me away from those now is the thought of who could win. You know, the urban legends of people picking teams based on uniform colors or mascots or how attractive the coach is AND THEN WINNING! The thought of my money in a game that is supposed to test one’s knowledge of the game going to people who can’t tell the Big Ten from the Freshman 15 or the Elite Eight from ménage a trois is revolting.
Not betting does nothing to diminish my interest though. If anything, my excitement for the NCAA tournament has gone up, thanks to one of the greatest inventions of recent memory: March Madness On Demand. Since freshman year I’ve been able to get nearly all the games live on my computer and can switch between them at will. The CBS toy also works around the world, as I pleasantly discovered while abroad last spring. The travesty that European bars don’t ever tend to show tournament games is negated. Watching Final Four and Championship games that start at two or three in the morning was no problem. And easily worth it. Thanks CBS!
Two weeks from today, the euphoric event begins again. I will fill out my bracket hoping to make the correct pick for all 63 games, a hope likely to die in one of the very first games. I’ve had some moderate success in the past, getting two champions right (UConn 2004, Florida 2007) and I won a bag of candy I don’t like in my Expos class pool freshman year on the strength of six Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and UCLA in the title game. Oh yeah, I also picked Maryland to win the women’s tournament, a tournament of which I watched a grand total of zero games.
Then there were not so good times, like 2003 when I got zero Final Four teams, or that one day in the first round in 2005 when I watched TWO Final Four picks lose in big upsets. My feelings as I watched Syracuse stink it up against Vermont gave new meaning to the term “March Madness.”
But the tourney should be a happy time for you and me. While we wait, I’m looking forward to the end of the regular college basketball season, including that of the Harvard team—which I cover for The Crimson—and then the many conference tournaments, a juicy lead-in to the tourney.
Watching those games is also great prep for picking winners. There are so many different criteria proposed by experts that they often contradict each other in the end. So go with your gut. Pick teams you root for to win, within reason, while predicting teams you don’t like to lose earlier than expected. (Duke has lost to a lower seed every year since 2004 hahaha).
Most importantly, be pumped. This is sports utopia.
—Ted Kirby ’09 is a History concentrator in Pforzheimer House. His bracket is better than yours.