Every March, the sports world comes together for one of the biggest events of the year: the NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments. Affectionately referred to as March Madness due to the propensity for chaos and surprises, these tournaments are avidly watched by millions of Americans every spring. With 65 games taking place in a rapid month-long period, many participate in the common practice of filling out a mock bracket with the aim of best predicting the results. This year alone, over 70 million brackets were created for family rivalries, office competitions, and challenges between friends––and through these circumstances, an estimated $12 billion is gambled on these games. However, this consumption of basketball is not its pinnacle; even concurrently, the NBA continues to be the home of the best basketball on the planet with superstars who have matured into some of the best athletes on the planet. Yet the viewership of the NBA has declined in recent years, while March Madness continues to grow and receive rabid support. So why is a tournament full of amateurs and hopeful professionals competing in popularity with a league overflowing with the top performers in the game?
This shift in interest can be drawn back to a recent trend of professional sports becoming more player-centric than focusing on the action on the court. In the NBA specifically, the past few years have seen teams in the most popular U.S. markets create teams overflowing with superstars as these players seek to engrave their names into the halls of history by building rosters with other strong talents. This trend has been accompanied by a decline in parity; good teams have continued to prosper while those that struggle have been cast aside. This rise in player control on the court has coincided with greater player visibility off the court as well. Modern athletes are not just seen as masters of their craft, but also as icons in the public discourse. In stark contrast to this development, March Madness remains an arena where giants can be slain and the main product on display is the sport itself.
This year, a small evangelical school in Tulsa, Oklahoma called Oral Roberts University shocked the world by beating the “giants” Ohio State University and Iowa University to progress to the Sweet 16––after beginning the tournament ranked as a 15th seed. While these results may have killed a lot of brackets, the public fell in love with this David that had slain two Goliaths in a span of three days. With the recipe of large and small institutions, high-level recruits and walk-on students, and a jam-packed schedule, madness and magic are bound to occur. School pride also plays a large role in the popularity of March Madness. While allegiances to professional teams are often strong, there is a special connection that people have to their time in college and the memories from those years. March Madness serves as a time where people reminisce on these memories and the rivalries that persist from them.
Now that the dust has settled and Baylor has enjoyed their “One Shining Moment” from winning this year’s tournament, the annual cycle shifts as teams graduate seniors from their program, integrate new freshmen into the culture, and prepare for a season where the slate is clean and anything can happen. As we look towards next year’s event, revel in the rarity of the upsets and underdogs. Enjoy the drama of the blue-blood matchups, the excitement of the buzzer-beating shots, the joy in victory, and the tears of the seniors playing their last games. No written script could rival the plotlines and twists of this narrative. As we await next March, let us appreciate this display of emotion and passion. Let the Madness reign.
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