Deep Into Sports: What Makes March Madness Really Mad and Really Wonderful Mar12

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Deep Into Sports: What Makes March Madness Really Mad and Really Wonderful


a blogumn by Nate Barlow

marchmadness- Sally MahoneyMarch Madness is finally here!

What’s that, say you?  It’s not March Madness yet!  There are no brackets, no upsets, no buzzer-beaters.

Ah, but there are.  Conference Tournament Week is here.  And each year, the conference tournaments expand more and more both in excitement and importance, having reached that point in their evolution at which they are no longer just a mere precursor or warm-up act to the big dance but now stand as the entire first act.  Selection Sunday is no longer just the kick-off of the Tournament; it has become the turning point of an extended dramatic structure.

When some school with a .500 or less winning percentage goes on a miraculous run during the conference tourney, upsetting the Number 1 seed and landing the conference’s automatic berth when they otherwise had no chance in hell of advancing to anything but the NIT (and maybe not even that), the Madness has already begun.

More so than any other sport, college basketball has seen unprecedented growth over the last twenty-five years, largely because CBS realized that the NCAA Tournament was marketable — specifically because some small school no one has ever heard of except for its alumni could pull off a series of upsets and go deep into the Tourney, not despite such an occurrence.

It’s a unique situation in American team sports.

The college basketball tournament thrives on those upsets happening, and a deep run by a smaller program actually generates fan interest instead of dampening it.  One would think the underdog phenomenon would prevail across the sports spectrum, but the ratings success of the professional leagues and Division I-A college football sadly lives and dies with the exposure and success of the big-name teams.  Phillies-Rays was not a highly-rated World Series, for example (it should be noted that the Super Bowl has become such a cultural event that it is immune to the popularity of the teams playing).

Ironically, the powers-that-be at NCAA still frequently fail to divorce themselves from their big conference paychecks in awarding smaller schools more at-large berths.  I’m not saying that the Selection Committee should pick a mid-major school over a Big-6 Conference school if it’s not warranted, but time and again the Committee favors the traditional powerhouses having an off year rather than the small program having a great year when, all things being equal, the selection is otherwise a toss-up.  Fortunately, the automatic bid system always means there will be underdogs for whom to root… and their success puts the madness in March Madness.

. image credit: Sally Mahoney
Want more sports? Check out Nate’s regular sports blog, Deep into Sports