I’m banging my hands against my head as one of my favorite NCAA basketball teams turns the ball over …again.
The Big Dance, March Madness, the NCAA Tournament … it’s begun in a big way!
There’s not a neater publicity package that exists than the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. CBS Sports, the event’s current television partner, revs up its coverage with an exclusive unveiling of 65 teams and follows it with three weekends of some of the best the sport has to offer.
The Dan Patrick Show conducted a poll and more than half who responded said that they’d rather attend an NCAA Basketball Tournament than a Super Bowl. A couple of callers said they’d attend just the first weekend of the hoops if given the chance between it and the Super Bowl or World Series.
For me, there’s magic in the Big Dance. I have been fortunate to be involved in a bundle of NCAA Tournaments as a host, television freelancer and media relations volunteer. (Yes, “a bundle” is a scientific count in this case!)
Each year I watch the selection show on television to see which of the 65 teams will to travel to a Region near me. As a fan, I look at the match-ups, think about the teams I saw during the regular season and wonder how they’ll match up against NCAA Committee-selected opponents.
What drives people like me, and millions of fans to invest so much time and attention to a sports event? After all, some believe that there’s little outside of “American Idol” that can attract America’s attention for weeks at a time.
“March Madness is a social phenomenon,” said Peter Robert Casey, the first-ever credentialed college basketball Twitter reporter. “It’s friendly competition via brackets, and a chance to root for your alma mater.”
There is also drama. In just the first day of this year’s competition, there was lots of that: upsets, overtimes (including a double-OT and buzzer-beater). It doesn’t start there, though. The theater starts weeks ahead of the tournament as fans and “experts” discuss what teams will earn coveted spots in the NCAA Tournament field and what programs may be left behind because of a formula that’s debated every year (Ratings Percentage Index or RPI).
Austin American Statesman sports columnist, Kirk Bohls, said, “I think the one-and-done finality of the event draws in fringe fans.”
A win or more for a lesser-known school could mean priceless bragging rights for at least the next year.
“A win like today’s for Murray State is similar to winning a national title for schools out of the ‘Power Six’ conferences,” said award-winning sports voice, Tim Brando, who is calling NCAA West Region games for CBS Sports from Spokane, Wash.“No price tag can be put on the value it has to the profile it gives the university.”
The bottom line is that the Big Dance is fun. Yes, it’s a business. It’s the NCAA’s biggest money producer and one of television’s most extravagant, extended and organized productions of the year. But for those of us who have the privilege to work and simply watch the action and pageantry, it’s big fun.
I hope you enjoy the tournament. In the mean time, here are a few photos from the day prior to play from the Bradley Center at the Milwaukee Region. Everyone’s hard at work. Soon, the ball is tipped…
Images by Gail Sideman