We are in the midst of the greatest time on the sports calendar, mio primas: March Madness. Why so great? Well, besides the two opening days being the closest thing to national holidays without being declared as such and the fact that its demographic stretches from 8 to 80, I can summarize in one word: Cinderella.
We all know that Middle Tennessee State can’t possibly win the tournament and be crowned the NCAA champ (right?), but they knocked off a true Goliath in the sport – Michigan State. Yep, the same Michigan State that 22.3% of you predicted to win the national championship, second only to Kansas at 25%.
This happens with great regularity with March Madness. Not so much in our other favorite distractions from reality. The top 4 teams in the NFL don’t even PLAY the opening round of their playoffs (they get a bye). The top seeds in the NBA playoffs treat their opening round opponents like sparring partners – barely breaking a sweat while dispatching them to the off-season. MLB offers a stern test for their playoff participants as the first round features best-of-five series, giving the weaker team a big-time shot at upsetting the favorite if they can steal game one or two. In this sense it’s the second most compelling playoff thanks to this artificial construct of the 5-game opening round series.
But March Madness has something all of the others do not have: The common occurrence of underdogs beating favorites, making it the most irresistible of sporting events for two key reasons:
- Competition. For the sports junkie who watches for the love of competition he/she is rewarded with 3 weeks of “anyone’s guess”. Nothing better for a lover of competition to settle into a contest where the outcome is far from preordained.
- Gambling. The Golden Goose of sports – and March Madness offers it in droves! The nature of Cinderella upsetting the field opens up the bracket to Vegas vets and kindergartners alike. The bracket makes fools of experts and experts out of fools. And that unites all of us together in gambling bliss.
Now the reasons for Cinderella’s preponderance in March Madness relative to other playoffs is pretty simple to understand. In a “win or go home” format, stress levels are at their highest for the favored teams. They have a very slim margin to square their play should they not come with their “A” game. More importantly, most Cinderellas are your smaller schools whose players bond for four years as opposed to the blue blood programs whose players stay for one or two years before exiting to the riches of the NBA. The camaraderie, loyalty, and cohesiveness of these small but peaking programs tend to outlast their more talented foes when games get tight … something that often happens in March Madness. The viewing of which is pure ecstasy!
So buckle up and enjoy the ride… watch out Notre Dame, Stephen F. Austin is coming your way!