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Neikrie’s Notes: Embrace the Madness

Neikrie’s Notes: Embrace the Madness

By Jamie Neikrie

There is no sporting event like the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sounds pretty boring with a name like that. But what makes The Big Dance the greatest sporting event in the world is the madness.

For all intents and purposes, college sports don’t really exist in New Zealand. Small, semi-competitive teams of willing players convene at one of the dozen or so universities, and occasionally they play each other with a decent level of competitiveness.

Not many people watch. There is no money at stake. No scholarships. No boosters. No rivalries. And most of all, no tournament.

College sports in the United States are a different animal. It features the best fans, the best sporting venues, the most historic rivalries, and the fiercest competition.

When you combine the revenue and publicity of every major college team across NCAA Division 1, college football and basketball dwarf every other North American sporting league, professional or not.

On an individual game basis, college football is probably bigger. But college football doesn’t have March Madness. It simply can’t compete.

There are 32 divisions for Men’s Basketball teams, comprising 347 teams. Every March, each division hosts its own conference, with the best teams from the conference making the tournament.

In one week you have the Big East Tournament, the Big 12 Tournament, the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and 29 others, hundreds of games featuring the best teams in the country, playing out over a few days. On the line? A chance to prove what kind of a team you are. To prove that you are among the best. To prove that you can put on your dancing shoes.

Then comes Selection Sunday, when teams gather at their coach’s house, watching as the ten-member selection committee decides which 68 teams will make the tournament (there’s also the NIT Tournament for the next 68 best teams, in case you can’t get enough basketball), where they will be ranked on a scale of 1-16, who and where they will have to play, and the path to victory that their résumé merits. It is a painstaking, controversial process that inevitably creates as many losers as it does winners. But the chaos only makes the tournament that much better.

Finally, The Big Dance begins. 65 games will be played two weeks, with a champion being crowned on April 7 this year. Nate Silver and ESPN go to work calculating the statistical outcome of every game, Barack Obama fills out his own bracket, and Warren Buffett offers $1 billion to anyone who can get every game right.

Barring an absolute miracle, no one will, because no one knows what will happen. That’s the beauty. Every year there’s a Cinderella team that overcomes statistics, eye tests, rankings, and every other measurement to defy expectations. Every year there is a player who transcends the college basketball, taking his team to new heights. And every year, there is Madness. Sweet, sweet Madness.


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