For as long as I can remember, I have been handed a bracket on Selection Sunday and told to fill it out. As a middle school student who knew very little about sports, I found the competition, and the chance to win bragging rights, fun.
Today my family is still filling out brackets and every March, everybody has an equal chance to win.
My brother, who as a sixth grader somehow predicted George Mason's Final Four run on his way to winning without watching one minute of college basketball during the season, has won. My mom, who likes to make her selections based off school names and jersey colors, has beaten us all. My girlfriend, who prefers putting team mascots up against one another as she makes her picks, is currently leading.
My father and I, who know each of the teams and can name one hundred more players than the rest of our family combined, have never won. We spend too much time looking at individual match-ups, free throw shooting problems, and point guard play rather than focusing on the truly important things. You know, things like how the Utah Utes have a weird name so of course the Arizona Wildcats are going to upset them.
This chance for everyone to participate, and win for that matter, is part of the reason that March Madness has reached all demographics and become similar to the Super Bowl in a sense that everyone is excited about something. This widespread epidemic known as March Madness Fever is highly contagious and spreading rapidly.
From a basketball sense, what fan of the sport wouldn't want to watch the best teams in the country go head to head for a title? Sixteen games packed into one day makes for excellent basketball, individual match-ups, and excitement.
And this isn't the NBA. Teams can't lose three games and then still come back and win a title. If you lose, you're done. Every big play is more important and every mistake is magnified. March Madness is a basketball fan's heaven, there is no doubting that.
But what about those who don't understand or like the sport? They love it too. Most of the people in my family's pool are either casual sports fan or have very little interest and they get just as into it.
Even if they had never heard of the Sienna Saints until this month, they are now rooting for them to beat Ohio State just as hard as Michigan fans because their bracket needs them to. But that's not all. Anyone who loves rooting for the underdog or their favorite school can get into the Big Dance. Heck, if you love winning money and gambling, this is the time of year for you.
The Super Bowl has the commercials, parties and media frenzy, but March Madness is getting up there in terms of diverse audiences. One reason for this is that fans love the intensity, pressure, and excitement of a single game determining a winner. Everything this team worked for during the season is decided in these twenty minutes. The suspense is always that of a game seven. That is why March is the month where heroes are made and rivalries are strengthened.
The players who make these games so excited never lose the passion and intensity towards the tournament either.
On Saturday, following the game between the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks, I made my way into the locker room for post-game interviews. Rather than seeing all of the guys dressed and ready to leave, many of them hadn't moved from the television long enough to get ready. Duke and Texas were playing on the big screen as I walked in and sure enough, J.J. Redick, one of the best Blue Devils of all-time, was sitting there rooting his team on.
Courtney Lee, the most successful Hilltopper in the team's history, was also focused on the screen, but at the top left corner where the Western Kentucky and Gonzaga score was being displayed.
Twenty minutes later, CBS was still airing Texas and Duke but Lee's gaze was still fixed on the score, either groaning or grinning with each update. One of the workers for the team turned off the showers which finally broke his trance. While the rest of his peers were dressed and heading to the team parking lot, Lee was still sitting at locker in his game shorts and towel that he got to using.
Exactly one year before this night, I had witnessed Lee's twelfth ranked Hilltoppers upset the fifth ranked Drake squad in an overtime thriller in Tampa. Throughout the team's run to the Sweet Sixteen, Lee averaged 20.6 points, 8 rebounds, 2.6 steals, and 1.7 blocks. It was his performance during these nationally televised games that caught the attention of scouts and NBA circles.
The Magic then went on to select him twenty second overall in last year's NBA Draft. It was largely because of his performance in the NCAA Tournament the year before that he was able to be sitting in his new team's locker room rooting on his old school. As I said, performances are magnified and heroes are made in March and Lee is yet another example of that.
Players and fans, adults and children, sports geeks and jock haters alike can all get into what March Madness has to offer. It is more than just a basketball tournament and means different things depending on who you ask.
To the college basketball player, it is everything they've worked for and a chance to prove themselves to the world. It is a chance to begin interviewing for NBA front offices and to bring recognition and respect to the school that put faith in them out of high school.
For the sports fan, it is nonstop excitement and a reason to call into work. They can root for their favorite team and maybe even attend one of the games. Extra points go to those who paint their bodies.
For the daughter of the sports fan, it is a chance to kick their dad's butt in his bracket and prove that she is, in fact, always right. She also may get the chance to win some money and have bragging rights when she successfully predicts her father's Alma Mater to lose in the first round while dad has them winning it all.
For the mom, she likes cheering on the underdogs and getting the whole family together to watch the games and fill out their bracket. It's all harmless fun and Memphis isn't just playing for pride and a title, they're also playing for her new pair of shoes so they better come through for her.
This is the fun of March Madness and I hope you enjoy it, no matter who you are.