Table of Contents
Photo: March Madness
The Birth of the Tournament as the Original Underdog
“This… is… March!” These three simple words ring out loudly and elicit the purest feelings of excitement and anxiety I have personally been experiencing this time of year since I was a little kid. Not out of fear of the Ides of March (watch your back Julius), but coincidentally an even bigger event that begins in the middle of the third month of the year; The NCAA Basketball Tournament, or as it is more commonly known, “March Madness.”
Founded all the way back in 1939, long before it was called March Madness, the post-season Tournament began as just eight teams competing for the prize of declaring themself the greatest college basketball team in the land. It was actually the second postseason college basketball created, after the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) was created in 1938. The two tournaments competed for viewership and teams until the 1970s when March Madness took over prestige and notoriety by creating “at large” bids for teams. All Division 1 College Teams for the men’s and women’s tournaments are technically eligible to participate in their respective tournaments at the conclusion of their regular season as long as they are “invited”.
Teams compete all year and then after the regular season has concluded, play in their conference post-season tournaments, where the winner of each conference tournament receives an “automatic bid” into the March Madness tournament. These automatic bids were the basis for the original tournament way back in the day once upon a time, but as things grew the tournament opened up to more teams and allowed for more avenues of entry. Teams with impressive win and loss records who stand out with strong resumes based on strength of schedule and competition receive the “at large” bids indicated above which go to the teams in the eyes of the committee who belong in the tournament regardless of winning their conference tournament or not.
This same committee is also responsible for assigning the different seeds that will make up the field, numbered 1 through 16, for all the teams in the tournament and which sets up who will play each other as the tournament advances. The field is broken down into 4 “regions”, each representing the area of the country where the games will be played. Each region is seeded 1 through 16, and the regional winners represent what is known as the “Final Four” which is a notable accomplishment for a team to be one of the last 4 remaining teams.
The March Madness tournament has evolved tremendously over its 83 years of existence since its inaugural tournament featuring only eight teams, and now in 2022 features 68 teams all competing for the National Championship. With its increase in size, March Madness has also undergone massive transformations to fit modern times. Most notably among them is the way in which the games are broadcast and televised nationally, reaching massive audiences who are all tuning in for their own unique purposes.
March Madness – The Month The Country Sits Still
Beginning this Thursday, March 17th, there will be college basketball games playing nonstop across CBS, TBS, TNT, and even TruTV, which this time of year always reminds us that this channel exists. With 68 teams and 32 overall games to get through on Thursday and Friday alone, you truly cannot escape any situation without hearing or seeing some reference to the ongoing tournament. People across different industries from Hollywood to production lines in Detroit will be fixated on one thing, March Madness. Millions of people from different walks and ways of life tune in to as many games as they can to have their hearts sink or soar on the play of 18-22-year-old kids.
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March Madness has always been a massively successful event when it comes to television ratings, but in the streaming age, it has been taken to a completely different level. Now, instead of having to sneak a radio and earpiece into your job to keep a beat on the games happening during the workday, you are literally working on the very device you can be using to stream and watch the games. (Please don’t tell my employer, though they are probably watching too, it’s all good). More access on more devices has only meant even more eyes, albeit in alternative ways, over the past few years.
One of the most notable experiences I ever had with March Madness was a few years back working an office job as a receptionist. It was a quiet day and the entirety of our department were all in a March Madness “pool” (more on this in a bit) competing against each other. With it being a fairly slow day, I had the television in the lobby tuned into one of the games going on at the time. The entire office ran into the lobby to check on me as I shouted out in elation as a team I needed to win hit a last-second shot to win the game.
The monotony of the day broke down and after a quick chastising for my behavior, the entirety of the office came together to discuss each other’s brackets and what impact that game would have on our final result. March Madness brought this group of people with really nothing in common together and let us spend one of the nicer amounts of time I ever spent there altogether. It also let me know that I may not be the greatest fit for that job, which is important in its own way, so thank you March Madness.
Brackets, Gambling, and Buzzer Beaters
With the tournament, each year comes an age-old tradition of filling out a bracket. The bracket is how the teams are organized based on their seed/ranking in the eyes of the committee. Offices, families, and friend groups will get together to form a “pool” where in which anyone that wants to participate puts in an amount of money, or other forms of capital, and you each submit a bracket where you pick the outcome of the games and an eventual champion before the tournament begins. The games are exciting and emotional enough, but having some money on the line for your team to win is a nice little added incentive to tune in.
Pools are one of those things that, like my story above, is one of the things about March Madness that brings everyone together over a common goal of winning each other’s money. It truly is an awesome and fun process and gives you a reason to root for players and teams you would have otherwise no idea even existed. The tournament is consistently exciting as it is completely unpredictable year to year, despite what experts may believe they know. Upsets, referred to as “Cinderella Stories” and underdogs are always the most fun and electric aspect of the tournament, never knowing who or when they will occur. For example, only once in the entire history of the tournament has a 16 seed beat a 1 seed in the first round, and it just happened 4 years ago when the University of Maryland Baltimore County launched the greatest upset of all time by beating number 1 Virginia in the first round. This randomness makes it at the same time incredibly frustrating to participate, but is also the basis and reason for why we do.
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My very first pool I ever entered was for my dad’s office when I was 10. To the dismay of everyone except him, I correctly picked the champion and helped yield my dad a little bit extra for a Christmas Present next year, which I’m still waiting to see 17 years later. It is this kind of innocent bliss that makes March Madness such a fun endeavor in the first place. Since it is a tournament of teams that a lot of whom have not played each other during the regular season, it is a total crapshoot on who can win game to game.
It’s the kind of thing where a 10-year-old kid can win hundreds of dollars on a high stakes pool because he picked the UConn Huskies to win because he likes dogs and thought their mascot was cool, while others build computer algorithms or study statistics to try to deduce a unique winner. Often the people taking the bracket process too seriously and over analyze and overthink are the ones left holding the proverbial bag when they cut down the nets at the end of the tournament, which only makes the whole thing way more enjoyable.
Another component that draws a tremendous amount of people to the event is the opportunity to bet straight up on the games. Something that used to be relegated to the shadows of our society, but like with a lot of things the more legitimate it becomes, the better for all. March Madness has always since its earliest days allowed for some friendly, and a lot of unfriendly wagers to be placed.
With the now legalization of gambling in a lot of states and the ability to place bets directly from your phone, the game has definitely been changed once again. With the increase in legit gambling, one can only hypothesize that there will be even more people tuning in to the games. The American Gambling Association estimates around $3.1 Billion will be wagered on the tournament this year, which is set to be the largest legal gambling haul in the history of the tournament. While some people may not feel comfortable with the idea of legalized sports gambling, which is totally fair, it is important that it is now legal and far more regulated than it ever has been before to protect the interests of the bettor.
Still Going Strong After All These Years
With a tournament that is 83 years old, surely things are starting to get pretty stale, right? While Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, would not be able to identify the game he created today, the Tournament and college basketball as a whole are going as strong as they ever have.
With new access through online streaming, to more airtime and exposure through podcasts and different mediums, the game, and the tournament are alive and well. One of the most fascinating developments of the last year is the groundbreaking change to the sport that now allows the athletes to make money off of their Name Image and Likeness (NIL). With NIL now in play in college sports, many are optimistic that we will see the tournament and college basketball gain even more notoriety and strength as it comes along.
For the last decade-plus, it was a requirement of the NBA that all players entering the professional league had to be at least 19 years old to enter the NBA Draft whereas previously they could enter right out of High School if they so choose. An unintended consequence of this rule that colleges struggled with was that the top players coming out of high school would go to their colleges and play, but only for one year until they were draft eligible. This actually did lead to a decrease in ratings across college basketball in some instances and hindered the sport from being able to develop real meaningful “stars” as all the best players were leaving after one year to get paid in the NBA.
College basketball has historically always been at its best and brightest when it had stars and heroes and villains who were truly representative of the schools and teams they played for. With the new development of NIL, many experts across the sport are optimistic that we are going to see a true return to the glory days of the sport and the tournament, as these players will have the ability to make money while they are in school, and continue to hone their craft over years of playing in college before going to the pros. Or for those that don’t end up making it pro, still benefit and bank some serious dough off of their skills.
Time to Sit Down and Enjoy
If you cannot tell from all that is written above, this is without a doubt one of my very favorite times of the year, and while I’m sure I sound insane I promise you I am not alone. There are people who plan surgeries and procedures around this time of year, just so they can sit on their couch and rest and have the games on while they do so. I’m not that crazy, but I may be one day.
March Madness is without a doubt one of those rare things in life that truly has something for everybody from any walk of life. It’ll make you smile or cry, laugh or sigh, jump for joy or scream in agony all while being completely and totally entertained by it all. So many sports are too overly complicated in their rules or postseason set up, and something I so cherish about March Madness is its utter simplicity. Basketball is inherently a fairly simple game for anyone to understand, and when coupled with the very basic nature of the spirit of the first tournament of trying to figure out who was the best out of the 8 teams it is truly a blast to digest it all as it plays out.
Here’s to hoping my bracket wins, yours loses, and we all have a great time enjoying the sport in its purest and most enjoyable, if not chaotic, form.
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.