March Madness is upon us
The first week of March Madness may as well be a national holiday. Starting Thursday, there has been nonstop college basketball from noon until after midnight. Millions of hours of productivity go down the drain for the economy as every sports fan tries to find an excuse to miss work and those poor souls stuck in a cubicle constantly check scores and their brackets. There are the discreet workers, as more brazen ones just watch the games with the NCAA website streaming every game for free, complete with a “Boss Button” that quickly pulls up a faux spreadsheet to give the allusion of being busy. Men are so desperate to get out of work to watch the games that vasectomies rise nearly a thousand percent the week leading up to the first weekend as the forced seated recovery period is the perfect excuse to stay home and sit on the couch while watching the game.
The only redeeming factor for the economy is the massive upswell of gambling, through office pools and Las Vegas sports bookies. March Madness is the perfect storm of gambling. The fixed bracket, propensity for upsets, and near infinite possibilities make it exciting for everyone from the college basketball aficionado to the sports novice who chose their bracket based on mascot cuteness. The odds of a perfect bracket are so astronomically low that billionaire Warren Buffett was willing to offer a billion dollars to anyone on Yahoo with a perfect bracket. By the end of the second day, no one who entered the competition was left unscathed and only one bracket of the millions who entered via Yahoo was still perfect, but that only lasted through the next game the following day.
The magic of March Madness is the Cinderella. The low seeded, generally small conference team that no one outside of their alumni has ever heard from suddenly gets thrust into national spotlight with the improbable upset over the traditional power house. This year has been filled with craziness; we have already guaranteed that at least one double digit seed will reach the elite eight, with 10 seed Stanford and 11 seed Dayton set up to play in the Sweet Sixteen.
With the rise of the “one and done” first-year, veteran mid-major teams — while generally having less raw talent, have the teamwork, leadership, and experience to beat the squads of blue-chip prospect mercenaries fielded by the Kentuckys, Dukes and Kansases of the world. This paradigm shift, inspired by the change in the NBA draft eligibility rules — which force players to be one year out of high school before declaring for the draft — has dramatically increased the parity in the tournament, making it even more ridiculous.
Duke University, a national powerhouse, has now lost in the first round two of the last three years to a 14 and a 15 seed. Florida Gulf Coast University went from a 15 seed to the sweet sixteen, making history in the process. The only holy ground is still the 1 versus 16 matchup, but that doesn’t mean a 16 seed hasn’t come close. The only thing about number one seeds anymore is their propensity for being upset in the second round instead of the first.
The upset has become so common that the 5 versus 12 matchup is universally known for its upset potential. Nearly every year, at least one 12 seed advances in the tournament. This year, three of the four 12 seeds won their games with the fourth — North Carolina State University — blowing a massive lead late in the second half and taking the game to overtime before finally falling to the five seed Saint Louis University.
As we progress into the sweet sixteen and beyond, the upsets should theoretically die down. Cinderella’s carriage is supposed to turn into a pumpkin as the clock strikes midnight and the big boys are supposed to duke it out for the title. But the last few years, things have not been going according to plan, and this year seems no different. With George Mason University, Butler University, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Wichita State University all making final four runs as low seeds in the last eight years, the blue blood schools are consistently getting shown up. This year, traditional powerhouses Duke University, the University of North Carolina State University, Syracuse University, Ohio State University, Villanova University, and the University of Kansas, along with the new class of schools like VCU and Wichita State, which both received high bids given their recent success and lofty records, all got knocked out before the end of this first weekend.
While March Madness has certainly gotten more exciting over the years, the quality of play has debatably declined with the decreased emphasis on team play and increased focus on raising draft stock for the June NBA draft. The college basketball purists may bemoan the degradation of their beloved sports, but I, for one, am thrilled at the prospect that the craziest three weeks in basketball is on the path to somehow becoming even more ridiculous.