The time is here. Sixty-eight college basketball teams now begin the annual festival of hoops we have come to call March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Is your favorite team among the 68?
Eight teams the selection committee consider slightly less worthy will tip off tomorrow and Wednesday to start the “play-in” action, hoping to earn the privilege of facing the best of the best in the elite 64. Then for the next three weeks, basketball will dominate television and the consciousness of millions of Americans and friends abroad.
Win a game and advance to the next level. Lose one, and go home. That’s it, one and done.
Scattered into geographic regions, Number 1-ranked teams will play the weakest teams chosen to face them. That’s the way “seeding” works. The best plays the worst, and usually those with the best regular season won-lost records prevail in these early rounds, but not always. Shocking upsets send some slick favorites home much earlier than expected, and the giddy victors move a step higher in the tournament, usually to lose in the next game or the one that follows.
First and second rounds will fill this first weekend; next weekend, the “Sweet 16.” Make it this far, and can the Final Four be within reach? These top four will have fans on the edges of their seats on March 31. Two winners play for the National Championship on Monday, April 2, three weeks from now. My favorite team, The University of North Carolina Tar Heels, took home the top trophy last year, just one year after having lost the championship game to a dramatic buzzer-beating shot.
Consider if you will the sheer numbers of people directly involved in these teams, their games, their travel, their laundry, their practices, their studies, their families and friends. Add in those responsible for logistical details at every game, the staffing, game officials, broadcast teams, food vendors, ushers, parking attendants, bus drivers, that’s a lot of folks and a lot of money being spent and earned. A lot of TV watching.
Somehow, we who love this stuff manage to conduct the rest of our otherwise normal lives during these three weeks of the tournament. It is a distraction, to be sure. Our normal lives, I mean, not the games.
Let the madness begin.