March 25, 2014

HOROWITZ | March Madness Trumps Pro Sports

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March is an interesting time in the world of sports. Hockey and basketball are nearing the end of their regular season schedule but still have a month left to go. The excitement of the super-bowl has almost entirely faded, and baseball has yet to begin. Hence, there is certainly a need for championship excitement this time of year, and thankfully the wonderful days of March Madness are upon us to do the job. It’s a fantastic experience for sports fans. Starting with 66 teams, no other tournament has as many single elimination, do-or-die scenarios as March Madness does. Everything is on the line in every single game. Whether the No. 1 seeds will meet expectations, which team will be the biggest unpredicted success story of the year, and who will cut down the nets at the end is so hard to predict. And that’s part of what makes it so exciting. Fans know that there will be thrilling moments, but it’s impossible to know where or when.

It’s a basketball festival that unites people nationwide. A staggering number of workplaces circulate pools among their employees, adding some fun competition to spice up often dry workplace relationships. Sure, there is usually gambling involved, and like any form of gambling, it can get out of hand if people start investing excessively. But the fact that the tournament only comes around once a year makes it less likely to encourage bad and wasteful habits. In most cases, it fosters good times, friendly competition and immense excitement. Even the President has caught march fever, filling out a bracket with ESPN every year.

It’s not just the chance of winning pools or the single elimination format that make the games so exciting. It’s also about the nature of the play. Teams are desperate to win, often edging out the competition with just enough offense and all-out defensive efforts. Teams never give up; almost every year we are treated to a game in which a team blows a multi-digit lead to lose a game in the final minutes or seconds. Almost every year there are a handful of huge upsets, sending powerhouse teams home early on. Because defenses are so stingy, winning depends on playing a strong team game. It’s more about playing as a team than about how many stars you have to hog the ball. And lastly, every team believes and gives it their all. When tipoff happens, the seeding goes away, and it’s all out on the floor.

For much of the year, basketball fans are restricted to the NBA, which is a far different experience. NBA teams don’t put forward the same tough defense as those in the college game. There is far less passing and creativity on both sides of the court. There are some fantastic teams, some dreadful teams, and not many teams in between. Clubs with the best and highest paid stars usually perform the best because they’re able to make the strongest individual plays. Now, this is largely because of the fact that the NBA has the best players in the world, so some are simply talented enough to carry a team on their shoulders. In college, the number of players who can win with individual effort alone is very small. But somehow, this lower concentration of talent doesn’t degrade the quality of the game. In fact, it raises it.

This year’s bracket will likely be as exciting as ever, because there doesn’t seem to be an obvious favorite. Louisville is the defending champion, and the sqaud may feel slighted at only receiving a No. 4 seed. It’s not out of the question for them to go deep in the tournament yet again. Additionally, there were a number of upsets in the major conference tournaments — UCLA beat Arizona and Viriginia beat Duke, for example. Duke has already been upset, but it will be interesting to see if those other teams can keep the momentum up and succeed in the tournament. The answer is anyone’s guess, and only time will tell. But for now, I can’t wait to see the rest of the drama of March Madness 2014 unfold.