My bracket is busted (thanks, Villanova), and I’m fine with that.
Sure, I probably wouldn’t mind the glory of miraculously still having a perfect bracket, but there’s so much to love about March Madness besides the brackets.
Starting with the brackets, though, you have to love the delicious possibility that anyone who attempts to predict the results from the Big Dance could be lucky. Though it can be a little frustrating to see people who know hardly anything about the sport of basketball conjure nearly spotless brackets, the unpredictability is part of the Madness’ charm. This year, my dad, who has not watched a complete college basketball game all season, called 14 seed Georgia State over Baylor, number 14 UAB over Iowa State, seven seed Wichita State over two seed Kansas, number eight NC State over one seed Villanova, and number seven Michigan State over two seed Virginia along with a host of other upset picks that you’d only expect to see from an astute, obsessive basketball fan. March Madness has a knack for making you smile and shake your head.
The first four days of the tournament are a yelling, fidgeting, frantic, channel-switching heaven. There is always a game on, most likely three or four at once. The entertainment is so constant that you start to get desensitized to the amazing events unfolding in front of your eyes, which stay transfixed on the television. Harvard is coming back and has a chance to beat UNC? Not as exciting as injured Georgia State coach Ron Hunter falling off his custom stool after his son RJ hit a game-winning three from a few feet in front of the half-court logo. That’s part of the madness; if you immerse yourself in the tournament, you know that anything is possible, because you’ve seen it.
High-level college sports are still, of course, a seriously corrupt institution that makes millions of dollars on exploited athletes. The Sweet 16 run by Bates basketball is a welcome distraction from those festering wounds. In contrast, when you’re watching an elite team like Kentucky play, it’s pointless to even pretend that the supremely talented athletes on display are also valued as students. Out of all the things that elite Division I basketball programs provide (a free ride to school, quality coaching, national celebrity, exposure to pro scouts and the lucrative NBA), education is obviously low on the priority list.
Fortunately, the boundless energy, hustle, and mistakes that we see from the underdogs in March makes those “student-athletes” look like normal 18- to 22-year-olds. When they have a brain fart or miss pressure-free throws, we understand their nervousness. Even the Kentuckys and Wisconsins occasionally appear human.
If everything breaks in their favor, the minnows and mid-majors have shown that they’re capable of breaking brackets and winning hearts, reminding us that flawed, regular kids can beat the skilled, slick giants. I can’t condone the way the NCAA sucks us into an infatuation with March Madness that seems to help the wealthy adults more than the “student-athletes.” But I know that the Madness will keep drawing me in, and that I’ll be watching the day a number sixteen seed beats a one. It’s going to happen one day.