All of America goes gaga in early March as they scramble to fill out their brackets for March Madness. After all, there are 68 teams to choose from and it's quite a task trying to pick your final four, while sprinkling in a few well-timed upsets here and there. It is estimated that up $2.5 billion is bet illegally on March Madness, much of it in office pools.
Imagine trying to fill out a bracket with 759 teams. Welcome to the FA Cup.
So just what is the FA Cup?
To start, it is the world's oldest knockout competition in association football (aka soccer), having first appeared in 1871. It is open to all of the teams in England's top eight divisions, meaning the largest clubs in England (think Chelsea or Manchester United) compete in the same tournament as amateur village teams. Imagine the Toledo Mud Hens playing the New York Yankees. Although the "minnows" rarely get a chance to play giant killers due to the tourney's format, there have been some notable upsets over the years, like Altrincham's victory over Birmingham City in 1985-86.
The FA Cup runs through the entire course of the English football season, with the first-round games beginning in August leading up to the final in May. It consists of 14 rounds, although members of Premiership, England's top division, don't enter the tournament until the 3rd Round Proper, which is actually the FA Cup's 9th round.
This year's final, at it's traditional site of Wembley Stadium, will be contested tomorrow between Stoke City and Manchester City. Stoke City, founded in 1863, is the oldest club in the Premiership, and was promoted in 2008 after not playing in the top league for 23 years. Manchester City ascended to the final having beaten their bitter intra-city rival, Manchester United, in a hard fought 1-0 semifinal.
After nine long months, 759 teams have been whittled down to two. And tomorrow, Stoke City or Manchester City will become the 130th holder of the prestigious FA Cup. Although it may not be March, it is still madness.