The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins tomorrow. It is arguably the most exciting sporting event. Over the span of three weeks 68 teams will vie to be crowned champion. Matchups will feature traditional powers versus unheralded programs. Upsets and personal interest stories of players and coaches participating will captivate the country. Some may ask what is the big deal about the NCAA Tournament? Why are daytimes and evening shows being preempted on four networks? Why are your family, friends, and coworkers filling out bracket sheets? Why did CBS and Turner pay $11 billion over 14 years to broadcast the tournament?
NCAA tournament brackets pools alone see Americans risk around $3 billion annually, and that doesn’t even count the numerous contests put on by businesses that do not require an entry fee, but will payout prizes to winners in hopes of getting people to their stores. Las Vegas earns approximately $100 million each year for the tournament.
March Madness with Championship Week that precedes the NCAA Tournament and the Selection Show that announces the tournament is what St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli called, "The best reality TV show ever.” March Madness is unscripted drama by young men and coaches chasing a dream and the narratives of compelling storylines that will be told.
The tears from NC Central Head Coach LaVelle Moton, Mercer’s Bob Hoffman, and St. Joseph’s Martelli after winning their conference championships to secure their inclusion in the tournament illustrates the emotion involved.
Hoffman has over 500 victories as a college head coach and is making his first trip to the tournament. Moton is leading the NCCU Eagles and alma mater to their first appearance in only their third season as a Division I school. Martelli and St. Joseph’s have not been to the tournament since 2008 with questions regarding his job security being rumored. In 2004 Martelli’s Hawks entered the Elite Eight with a 30-1 record loaded with three NBA players including Jameer Nelson, 2003-04 National Player of the Year and current Orlando Magic point guard. They lost a two-point heart breaker to Oklahoma State.
Andy Katz of ESPN recently stated on ESPN Radio that after the game a dejected Martelli expressed how he knew that might have been his only chance to get to a Final Four.
The teams scratching and clawing during conference tournaments are fighting for that chance just to get in. For many coaches and programs participating is a sense of accomplishment and advancing is even more.
Regardless whether it is a traditional powerhouse program such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, or Syracuse or University of Delaware making their first appearance this year since 1999 the passion is the same. Whether a favorite or an underdog as long as there is a game to be played and the teams’ participating dream is still alive. With every victory it is a step closer, with a loss the sudden realization that the season, dream, and for some careers are over.
|Andre Miller and Rick Majerus|
I was in attendance in San Antonio, TX at the 1998 Final Four. Kentucky defeated Utah in the National Title Game. Utah was lead by the late Rick Majerus and current Washington Wizards point guard Andre Miller. It was the third year in a row and the fourth time in six years Kentucky eliminated Majerus and Utah from the tournament. This time it was for all the marbles.
After the game Majerus expressed how difficult it is at a school such as Utah to recruit players talented enough to compete for a championship. He felt that game was for all the former players at Utah including former player Keith Van Horn (Utah ’97) who had a nine-year NBA career and he knew the chances of him getting back to that point would be difficult. Since 1998 Utah has made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2005.
The Wichita State Shockers are in a similar situation in this year’s tournament. After surprisingly getting to the Final Four in 2013, the Shockers finished the 2013-14 regular season undefeated (34-0). The first time a school as entered the tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991. Wichita State’s players, coaches, fans, alumni, and basketball community realize that another Shockers team may not repeat what this team has accomplished.
The schools that are favored to compete for a championship have to deal with the pressure that comes with it. The name on the front of the jersey represents the history of the program and what others before them have accomplished. Even when they should not be favored and the talent gap between them and their opponent is not as wide as perceived, knocking off one of those programs by a school not as heralded are the moments we remember. On a neutral court in a single elimination tournament it doesn’t matter who we think is better it is about who is the best that day.
The passion, pageantry, close games, and stories are what make the NCAA Tournament so special. For a college student-athlete whose main responsibilities are to go to class and play basketball, their sport is what they are emotionally invested in. They are not adults with the responsibilities that come with being one. The extremes of emotions win or lose in many instances cannot be contained.
As fans we can feel the intensity through the television and it is what makes it different from any other sporting event. Over the last 30 plus years television coverage of college basketball has increased. From the sound of the trumpet that cues the intro music to coverage of the games, musical montages and highlights capturing the moments, seeing the raw emotion of players, coaches, and fans is all part of what makes the tournament great. This is why we love it. We see dreams fulfilled and Cinderella stories end.
Marquee players don’t stay in school as long and college basketball has a different landscape then it did many years ago. But it doesn’t take away interest. For fellow basketball fans lets sit back and enjoy. For those that don’t get it, hopefully this will explain what all the fuss is about. So be patient over the next three weeks as the rest of us indulge in March Madness.