It is that time in America again when people crumple up pieces of paper, take long lunches at bars with beers and both cheer and cuss at the same time.
When terms like “Sweet 16,” “Final Four, “bracketology” and “bracket buster” became part of the lexicon. When people don’t cry over spilled milk but over a buzzer beater.
This phenomenon is known as March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which determines college basketball’s annual national champion. The 2023 March Madness dates are March 14-April 3, with the Final Four taking place April 1-3 in Houston.
And it’s as American as summer picnics. It causes meetings to be rescheduled, results in packs bars and has people cheering madly for teams they never heard of before the first 3-pointer. Americans work while keeping one eye on their emails and the other on a TV during March Madness.
Seconds after “Selection Sunday” – there’s another term for you – people race to CBS’ or ESPN’s website and fill out brackets. They are in office pools, pools of friends or ones at bars, all to try and win a few bucks. It’s all maddening, really, because some of the teams you never heard of have great records but play in small leagues. How will they do against the “big boys?”
And how good are those big boys anyway? Paper tigers or real lions? Nobody really knows until the final buzzer sounds. In the early rounds the field is reduced from 64 to 16 teams in a maddening flurry of heart stoppers and buzzer beaters on one frantic weekend.
That’s why it’s so fun to watch the games in bars because you can share your triumphs and your tragedies, often unfolding at the same time on different TVs, with others who are going through the same emotions. When the games end for the day, the bar floor is littered with ripped up pieces of paper which were once someone’s treasured bracket.
And when the winning team cuts down the nets, the American sports world moves on to the more calm activites. Up next after March Madness is the Masters. Dramatic in its own way, yes, but in quiet contrast to the chaos of March Madness.