The Story Behind March Madness
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Do you happen to have an extra two thousand squirreled away for a rainy day? If so, you might be able to nab a front-row seat at one of America’s premier sporting events. That’s the going rate for a premium perch at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division l men’s basketball championship game. Better act fast though. You’re not the only one dreaming about two-handed slam dunks and buzzer-beater 3-pointers. Here at Epic Mens, the excitement is palpable. And a nervous energy has settled over the rest of the country too, as tens of millions gear up for three weeks of adrenaline-filled tournament action. If you’re one of them, you know what we’re talking about. March Madness has arrived.
No, this annual springtime phenomenon is not a disease – although you might think so considering the sheer number of people caught up in the contagion. The phrase “March Madness” actually harkens back to 1939 and a poetic article written about the Illinois High School Association’s statewide basketball tournament. Four decades later, the phrase was co-opted during a 1982 televised broadcast to describe the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament and has since become the official brand of CBS Sports’ and Turner Sports’ network coverage of the event.
Of the approximately 350 teams playing Division l basketball, 68 will go on to compete in the 2019 tournament, which kicks off March 17 with Selection Sunday and culminates three weeks later on April 8 with the championship game at Minneapolis’s U.S. Bank Stadium. Each of the NCAA’s 32 conference champions will receive an automatic invitation or bid to play in the tournament. The NCAA Selection Committee will then choose an additional 36 teams who, based on their merits, will receive at-large bids. Lastly, all entrants will be ranked in a process that’s sometimes controversial and always fraught with anticipation. Wins, schedules, scoring margins, and overall efficiency are considered. Once the committee finalizes its decisions, the field is divided into four regions with the top-ranked teams playing the lowest-ranked teams in each region.
Every matchup is a high-stakes game because it takes just one loss to be knocked out of the single-elimination tournament. This do-or-die approach may be what’s behind the competition’s overwhelming popularity. However, the tournament hasn’t always been the crowd pleaser it is today. Only eight teams competed in the first men’s collegiate basketball tournament in 1939, playing to a fairly limited audience. Over time, more teams began participating. Yet, during the 60s and 70s, the field was dominated by UCLA – a powerhouse who would go on to win a record 11 titles. Smithsonian reporter Natasha Geiling speculates it was a combination of the gradual widening of the field, UCLA Coach John Wooden’s retirement, expanded media coverage, and the rise of superstar rivals Magic Johnson and Larry Bird that eventually catapulted the tournament into the national limelight.
Of course, it could also be the allure of betting on the outcome – legally or otherwise – that captivates and holds people’s attention. According to Geiling, as of 2014, more than 60 million eager fans were wagering a cool billion of their hard-earned dollars on the tournament each year. This, despite the fact that the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion (an assertion repeated so often, it’s practically common knowledge). No one has ever correctly predicted the winner of every game. And so infinitesimally small is the possibility that anyone ever will, that Warren Buffet once offered a million of his own dollars to any lucky or prescient soul who successfully completed the feat.But of course, you don’t have to nail the outcome of every game to win serious bragging rights or even a little extra cash. You just have to do better than the next guy. So, go ahead and enter an online contest or join your office betting pool. Having a team or teams to root for is half the fun. Don your lucky game-day gear and flaunt your picks proudly. March Madness is here, and it’s time for basketball fans everywhere to “go big or go home.”