Selection Sunday for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament takes place on March 11.
It's an exciting time for major college basketball power houses, such as Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina, as well as Cinderella dreams, such as Butler, which shocked the collegiate sports world by making it to the NCAA championship game for two straight years.
"March Madness" has become a national entertainment phenomenon that transcends sports. In countless companies across the U.S., there will be office pools in which sports fans, as well as people who know very little about NCAA basketball, will participate. It is estimated that nearly 60 million Americans will participate in pools this year, resulting in billions of dollars in lost productivity, as workers will analyze their brackets, constantly check the scores of daytime contests, and discuss their prognostications with their office colleagues.
The NCAA Tournament attracts hardcore college sports fans and casual viewers in the same way that the Super Bowl does. That's why CBS and Turner negotiated a $10.8 billion contract for broadcast rights over 14 years. Big money is involved. Schools that win make more of it.
Not being among the 64 teams in the tournament can result in a coach's pink slip. An early exit from the tournament can also be a death knell. Head coaches whose teams win big during the regular season but come up short in March are coaches whose days can be numbered. Losses in an early round cost programs lots of money. Since the players can't be fired, the coach often takes the fall. It may not be fair, but inevitably someone pays for failing.
Conversely, coaches whose teams perform better than expected often look for greener pastures when they become hot properties. Surely Brad Stevens, who put Butler Bulldogs on the map, and Shaka Smart, who brought Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four last year and has led them to a 27-6 record so far this year, will be approached by schools looking to turn around their programs. Both coaches have recently signed long and lucrative contract extensions, but college coaching contracts do not always run their full course.
For many sports fans, March Madness is the most exciting time of the year. When the month ends, the April coaching merry-go-round will begin. It's a rite of spring; but before all of that happens, there will surely be a lot of exciting games to watch.
Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high-profile placements are Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference; and Brady Hoke, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hughes coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.