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#pounditThursday, January 26, 2023

March Madness Has Officially Arrived

Every year, during the month of March (and apparently a couple days into April) a condition afflicts many Americans. It is a condition that has yet to be recognized by the AMA despite its prevalence and the number of sick-days taken for ill-contrived reasons (butter-finger, double dribbling, and “too full to stand up” are not exactly textbook definitions of legitimate medical excuses). Statistics show that, every year the NCAA basketball tournament begins, man hours are lost in this country due to sloth, laziness, and phony malaise. Of course, if they included the other 11 months in this study, it would probably show things are par for the course. Each year, 64 65 68 teams in Division I college basketball come together to not only experience such exotic locales as Dayton, Tampa, and Tucson (I hear Newark is lovely in the fall), but to bring home the geometrical oddity that is the National Championship trophy. Meanwhile, the rest of society is intently watching to see if Northern Colorado is worthy of placing a tax refund-sized bet on them pulling off an upset in a way only a school from Greeley, Colorado can.

It seems like everyone, regardless of whether they know that Long Island is actually a school and not just an alcoholic beverage, is filling out a bracket these days (the exception hopefully being Rick Neuheisel). Even the President of the United States made his picks in years past. Fortunately for him, he did not have to decide who would win a matchup between American and Liberty University. Talk about an executive decision! Each year, America’s dreams of seeing Wofford hoist the national title are dashed about five minutes into the opening of the tournament. “How’s your bracket doing?” becomes the familiar refrain from the folks who are staking a claim on winning millions filling out a bracket with a Final Four comprised of teams from the MAC, MAAC, SWAC, and WAC … Now that’s whack …?

Perhaps it’s not a message that has been endorsed by C. Everett Koop (yet), but watching endless hours of basketball coverage in the spring can cause bad things to happen to one’s brain. Case in point, while in college, I once insistently tried to change my major to bracketology only to be told that such a thing does not exist, despite my pleas to the contrary. An appeal to the dean was fruitless once I found out Dean Smith wasn’t an actual academic figurehead at the school. Perhaps if they seeded political elections like they do the NCAA tournament, then maybe national turnout would be better than Duke’s field goal percentage. Imagine how much better it would be. For one, Ralph Nader might not have made it out of Dayton. Bush-Gore in the Florida regional in 2000? That might have gone overtime, depending on whether the referees had better vision than the folks who casted a ballot for Pat Buchanan. Lest a Bill Clinton joke pops up, we can save talk of seeds for another day (oops).

Beware the sighs of March. Bulldogs and Terriers. Belmont and bell hops. Saint Peter’s and Santa Barbara. It’s crazy enough to send a BYU student to violate the school’s Honor Code. March has not officially begun until Billy Packer complains about tournament coverage, team selection, the cost of string, etc. Once viewers get the first dose of a Wenzel, Gminski, and Spanarkel, college basketball’s showcase has begun. As soon as Gus Johnson spontaneously combusts from over-excitement (wait a couple minutes), hoops fans can be assured it is safe to take out their bracket.

College basketball’s tournament is a four-week, all-encompassing geography lesson. (How many Oakland’s are there?). For nearly one month out of the year, numerous athletes grudgingly put aside their fine arts and communications course materials in order to focus on more pressing issues … the, uh, full-court press? Legends have been made from the NCAA tournament. Where would Bryce Drew, Rumeal Robinson, and Lorenzo Charles be without their great March Madness moments? Actually, come to think of it, where are these guys anyway?

The folks at the NCAA have finally gotten around to adding three more teams to bring the total to 68, far less than the amount predicted by some last year which would have had college basketball’s tournament expand to include some schools from the former Soviet bloc. In the past a “play-in” game stood as the college basketball version of Natural Selection, reducing the field to an even number and giving smaller schools the illusion they were actually a part of the tournament. Schools like Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alabama State had the opportunity to masquerade as tournament teams while necessitating one more victory to augment towering odds that, in order to come to fruition, would have required breaking out the winter coats and parkas in Hades. Now, it’s officially the “First Four,” about as close to the Final Four as these schools will get. The NCAA probably would have been better off sending out Publisher’s Clearing House letters promising these teams national championships.

The bubbles have been burst. The seeds have been sown. The brackets have been … bracketologized (presumably a word). It’s time for weeks of over-analyzing and hours of under-activity. Wait a minute, there’s a high-pitched noise. It must be the whistle. Nope, Gus Johnson.

Danny Lee has been involved in sports media for over seven years … While at UCLA, he turned his grade school doodles into a position with the Daily Bruin, and continues his diatribes to this day. You can read his contributions to Larry Brown Sports every Wednesday.

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