Aside from the Super Bowl, March Madness is probably the most anticipated sporting event in the United States.
As fans of the sport, those watching at home or court-side may not realize that there is another aspect when it comes to the importance of the tournaments that make up the craziness of March.
To all of the colleges and universities across the nation, March Madness is of extreme importance because it is yet another stage for a school, its athletic program and its student body to shine and garner invaluable respect.
In today’s world, whether one agrees with it or not, the success of a school’s athletic program ties directly to the public’s and current students’ perspectives of that school.
Take Butler University, for instance, a respectable school now known for its basketball team, but not before the 2009-2010 season. This is thanks to the Butler Bulldogs squad that pulled off one of the most impressive Cinderella runs in tournament history.
With little belief behind them, the Bulldogs went on to defeat No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 5 Michigan State on their way to the national championship game before falling to Duke.
As a result of the run, Butler as a school emerged onto the national level while exciting its student body at the same time. Now, when people hear the name Butler they can associate the school with its basketball team and winning record, attention that a smaller school cannot take for granted.
Then again, this tourney-effect is not only limited to the mid-major schools.
For another example take a look at Baylor University from the Big 12.
After the basketball scandal of 2003 that resulted in the murder of one player by another and a broken fan base, Baylor was revitalized with a surprise from the 2009-2010 Bears basketball team.
Predicted to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, head coach Scott Drew took Baylor all the way to second place in the conference and an appearance in the Elite Eight.
After that, Baylor was finally able to wipe off its tarnished image and continue building its new program, free from the past.
Yet, national image is not the only item of importance when it comes to pulling out victories in March.
A college's athletic program lives and dies by good recruiting and when a player coming out of high school watches his choices battle their way through March, he cannot help but lean more in favor of that school which played better during the most important part of the season.
Essentially, for those colleges that make it into March Madness, the teams do not play just for individual or personal glory, but also for the reputation of their schools from a public and player perspective.
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who knows quite a bit about the NCAA tournament, having won 10 himself, said, “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
The majority of the college basketball landscape is not made up of the successful Kentuckys, Dukes or North Carolinas, which have a storied history and are expected to do well every year. Instead, it is made up of those schools that live on a year-by-year basis and continue to hone their programs, while hoping for the respect that results from accomplishing that which is beyond their ability and surprising the nation.
In the end, basketball is not the only sport that is important to colleges, but as the conference tournaments continue and the NCAA tournament takes off, think about what each game means to the school that is represented.
The banners that hang in an arena after each season mark more than just a conference championship or Sweet Sixteen appearance.
They signify a form of life for each and every school.