In sports, nothing beats playoff action. We watch for the anticipation of a World Series game seven, the drama in an NBA Finals, and the sheer spectacle of the Super Bowl. In the midst of our monotonous daily routines, playoff action in sports offers a refreshing and thrilling change of pace. While most sports provide drama and unexpected thrills, the undisputed champion of sports tournaments goes to college basketball. Above all other sports, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the biggest and best of them all. With the most teams, the highest profits, and the best underdog stories, March Madness is a sports fan’s dream come true.
68 teams are ready to etch their names into college basketball lore, while millions of spectators are preparing for three longs weeks of raw, unfettered emotion and entertainment. While you are likely on the 23rd draft of your bracket, take a break for a minute, and read five reasons why the next few weeks are the best in sports.
5. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is Money-making Madness
Despite popular belief, the cash cow of NCAA sports is not football. While the Johnny Manziel’s of college football are widely recognized and individual programs may bring in top dollars to their respective universities, the real breadwinner for the NCAA plays on the hardwood. In fact, NCAA President Mark Emmert said in an interview with PBS Frontline that the men’s basketball tournament – popularly dubbed “March Madness,” – accounts for 90 percent of the revenue that flows into the NCAA. According to data from Kantar Media, last year’s six-round, 68-team tournament accrued more than $1 billion in television revenue, making it the single most profitable postseason sporting event in the world. According to the same data, ad revenue from the entirety of the 2012 NFL postseason reached $976 million, while the MLB playoffs and World Series generated $354 million in ad revenue.
4. College Basketball Shows the Purest Form of Competition
Unlike professional football or basketball, the actual players we tune in to watch – approximately 952 of them – walk away with nothing but tired legs, some exciting memories, and a slim chance at a pro career. While the irony is indisputable, the fact these young athletes have zero monetary incentives, makes the NCAA tournament all the more compelling. It certainly doesn’t seem just that these student athletes are essentially professional athletes without the paychecks, but without the component of money, the competition is boiled down to its purest form.
It may sound cliché, but watching athletes truly leave everything they have on the court is a refreshing change of pace from most professional sporting events; the scrapping for lose balls, sacrificing of bodies for a charge foul, or selflessly passing to the open man, all of it is beautiful. But what really makes the competition in March so infectious is the pride the athletes show in the school name on the front of their jerseys; yet another helpful reminder that despite all the glitz and glamor, the athletes are still students.
3. Fairy Tales Come True in March
Eleven months out of the year, Cinderella is simply a children’s fable, and a popular Disney movie you’ve probably seen more than a few times. In March, however, the name conjures up much more than childhood nostalgia. In March, Cinderella belongs to college basketball – where fairy tales are encouraged.
Most years, the juggernauts of college basketball prevail. Since the tournament began in 1939, Duke has reached the Final Four fifteen times, winning four national titles, UCLA has taken home a record eleven titles, Kentucky has won eight championships, while North Carolina and Indiana both have five championships a piece. However, what makes the win-or-go-home setup so compelling, is the inevitability of upsets. Only once – in 2008 — have all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. Typically the underdogs come through, at least to a degree. And who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog?
But an underdog winning a game or two does not constitute a fairy tale. What defines a Cinderella story in March is a team that defies the odds again and again. In the illustrious history of college basketball, only a few teams can truly be classified as a Cinderella team. Some notable teams include the No. 8 seeded Butler Bulldogs, who reached the title game in 2011, The North Carolina State Wolfpack, popularly dubbed “the Cardiac Pack” for its improbable championship run in 1983, and of course the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, who became the lowest-seeded team (eight seed) to ever run the table.
2. Everyone Loves ‘Bracketology’, Even Old Ladies
A few years ago, I went to visit my grandparents in Florida for spring break. Because I was hanging around a retirement resort, it certainly wasn’t going to be one of those typical booze-filled hazes of a week typically associated with spring break, but I was more than okay with this, mainly because the NCAA basketball tournament perfectly lined up with my week-long vacation. I remember sitting by the pool on the eve of the first round of games, chatting with my dad about picks and potential upsets, when an old lady approached us with a question. She wanted to know what we thought of her bracket, and she wanted the skinny on the West Coast teams. We were happy to oblige her with our limited knowledge, but it turned out she was the one with the real basketball brain. After she broke down what she thought about Florida’s shooters and Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense, I ran home and changed a few picks of my own.
The point is, March Madness gets people excited. It brings us together, and allows us, the fans, an opportunity to get involved. No other postseason tournament in sports is as encompassing as March Madness. For whatever reason, people have become enamored with constructing the perfect bracket. Heck, with a perfect bracket, fans even have a chance to win $1 billion this year, thanks to Warren Buffett. Money or not, filling out a bracket is a yearly ritual that unites sports fans and casual observers alike. And if you ever need bracket advice, try asking an old lady.
1. Games are Always on, Offering Endless Entertainment
According to Forbes Magazine, productivity in the workplace dipped an estimated $134 million during the time of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Why? Because the games are easier than ever to follow nowadays and it would be shocking if employees didn’t spend their days following the action. While most professional sports tournaments typically have no more than two games airing on a given day, the first week of March Madness will air 56 games, with 32 broadcasted over the first two days.
The current 68-team format – put in place in 2011 – is a gold mine for television and for the NCAA. In 2010, the NCAA announced a 14-year, $10.8 billion television contract with Turner Broadcasting System. And yes, that’s billion with a “B”. With games airing over five different television networks along with free online streaming, it is hard not to become immersed in the madness.