March Madness for the Many

By Adam Bihi, Staff Writer

Joel Dewolfe (10), Finn Kelleher (9), Kenneth Sevart (9), and Gerald Achtermann (11) crowded around a laptop in the cafeteria on March 21 at 12:15 PM. Xavier Arana (12) could be spotted in a similar situation across the cafeteria, and Lizzie Nguyen (11) was down the table, watching the first round of the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship; March Madness had begun.

The tournament is played in a single elimination format. If a team loses, their season is over. The tournament starts with 68 teams who qualify by either winning their conferences or winning an at-large bid., and is done in seven rounds, starting with the “First Four.” The “First Four” is a series of four games held between teams holding the four lowest seeded automatic bids, achieved by winning their conference,  and the four lowest seeded at-large bids. At large-bids are chosen on a “Selection Sunday,” where a committee chooses the eight teams with the ability to compete against the conference winners.

After these four games, the tournament works its way through the first round, second round, “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight,” “Final Four,” and championship/consolation rounds. The first tournament, held in 1939, originally only had eight teams, but it slowly expanded to its modern size.

One of the main reasons why March Madness is a staple in the sports world is because no one has any idea who’s going to win; anything is possible. It is exciting to see that underdog team surprise the nation and knock off the expected, and a lot of people can take part in it even if they don’t have a personal connection to college basketball. March Madness disciples can choose teams to support for any reason: proximity, popularity, infamy, or even coolest uniform. Rooting for a team makes March Madness more personal.

Mr. Simon is an avid college basketball fan who supports the George Mason Patriots. He vividly remembers the 2006 team reaching the Final Four. “We have a small prize-pool every year, it’s only $50, so it’s not a big pay-out,” he said. “I’ve won a couple of times.” Mr. Simon also says that he’ll let students who are caught up on their work watch the games as a reward.

Brackets and prize pools also add to the popularity of March Madness. One of the most famous bracket competitions is billionaire Warren Buffett’s yearly March Madness contest. Warren Buffett lets employees compete for a prize of $1 million a year for life if they correctly guess which teams make it to the Sweet 16.  It even has its own science, “Bracketology.” Bracketology is so popular, it has its own class at St. Joseph's University titled “The Fundamentals of Bracketology.”

As Elizabeth Nguyen (11) puts it: “March Madness is so appealing to everyone, fans and non-fans alike, because it’s competitive, everyone can participate, and you don’t have to know much about basketball or follow it year-round to make a successful bracket.”