Why is the NCAA tournament so much fun?

March 19, 2009

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It’s finally here – the day you have all been waiting for. The NCAA tournament begins today. While fans rejoice, corporate America groans under the weight of millions of hours of lost productivity. I don’t think any other single sporting event during the year generates as much buzz.

This weekend, we will experience wall-to-wall tournament coverage. CBS will whisk us from game to game, ensuring that we never get bored. We’ll even see multiple games via split screen. If we’re not sure about the availability of pizza, Pizza Hut will let us know that they, indeed, are open during the tournament and will be happy to deliver. If we forget, Pizza Hut will remind us, again and again again, all throughout the tournament.

Basketball fans love the tournament, of course, but non-fans also come out of the woodwork for the tournament. The casual fan can be exposed to a wide variety of offensive and defensive styles, and CBS makes sure that they are never subjected to a blowout. When one game gets out of reach, they just switch to a better matchup. Basically, we get to eat dessert, but don’t have to eat our veggies. That’s always OK in my book.

An ancient tradition in the history of the NCAA tournament is the filling out of brackets. I run a small office pool (for entertainment purposes, of course). This in my seventh year running the pool, and I get a lot of enjoyment from watching people participate. Every year, the people who know a lot about basketball attempt to compete against the people who spend thirty seconds filling out their bracket – and the non-fans do pretty well most years.

I have a great memory of the 2003 tournament. One of the managers in the office was ridiculing another person’s choice for national champion. I stayed neutral, with my standard comment of “you never know what will happen”. The manager’s prediction of gloom and doom looked on target when 14 seeded Manhattan cut a Syracuse lead to just five points with less than seven minutes to go. Syracuse prevailed in the game, however, and would go on to win the national title.

There are other stories of predictions gone terribly wrong. My wife’s friend used an interesting method to choose the winners one year. She picked them alphabetically. Yep – whichever team came first in the alphabet was picked as the winner. Unfortunately, Appalachian State was unable to reward her optimism, and she ended up with a pretty poor showing.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend several post-season basketball tournaments in person. I’ve never been to a men’s NCAA tournament due to geographical and financial considerations. However, I have been to at least four women’s NCAA tournaments, including one regional final. I have also been to a men’s NIT game (Iowa State vs. Iowa in 2003). The energy at the tournaments is awesome.

My advice to you is this. Watch a lot of basketball this weekend. Pull for some upsets. Become elated when you predict an upset and despondent when a Final Four team goes down to defeat. At least it will take your mind off the economy!

Bonus tournament: you might not realize it, but the NCAA wrestling tournament kicks off this weekend. It doesn’t have the fanfare of the basketball tournament (or even the fanfare of the women’s NCAA tournament, or the NIT tournament, etc) but I’ll be following the action closely all weekend, with the help of the internet. If I wasn’t from Iowa, I probably wouldn’t follow wrestling, but with two dominant teams in the state – my alma mater Iowa State, as well as that “other” school – it’s a sport that I have to follow.

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