The Big Dance Turns 78
The first year of the NCAA basketball tournament was in 1939 and featured only 8 teams. The idea for the tournament was the brainchild of Ohio State Legend Harold Olsen, who saw his Buckeyes’ lose in the first ever National Championship game by a final score of 33-46. The opponent, the University of Oregon Webfoots, named after a group of settlers who recently migrated from Massachusetts, won the game and so commenced the greatest month in sports.
Since 1939 the tournament has exploded in popularity. Currently there are 68 teams featured in the tournament, with the most recent expansion happening just 4 years ago (from 65). Across the country brackets fill laptop screens and occupy the minds of sports lovers in all walks of life. Any and all try to predict the outcomes of the tournament and guess the eventual winner. The odds of guessing all of the games correctly? A mere one in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Hence the nickname March Madness. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying. Throughout the nation friends, colleagues, and families create pools that often reward the winner with cash prizes and punish the loser with strange haircuts and even tattoos.
From sudden upsets to Cinderella teams, the month of March is filled with some of the most heart wrenching and competitive moments in all of sports. When I think about this tournament I can’t help but notice the poetic justice. Just last year the University of Norther Iowa won their first round game on a half-court buzzer-beater from Paul Jesperson. Two days later they experience the worst meltdown I have ever witness, blowing an 12 point lead with under a minute to go. This is just the most recent chapter of the meltdown playbook. It seems every year something else happens that outshines last years mistakes.
Conversely, for every meltdown there is a miracle that often propels smaller, mid-major colleges deep into the tournament. Some of the most recent teams to experience the magic of March are the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams, and the high flying Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Each surpassed expectations and beat teams with multiple Final Four appearances on their way to a deep tournament run. Each year there is another team that busts brackets and teaches us that nothing nothing is impossible if attacked with the correct passion and vigor.
The amazing part about all this madness is that some of the players are as young as 18 years old, and are asked to compete in front of millions of people while carrying the pride of entire regions of the US. These young men are scrutinized by media, fans, and former NBA all stars. They go from zero to hero and back again all in a matter of days. What makes the tournament so entertaining to many viewers, myself included, is the passion seen in the college game. Many of these athletes grew up watching their respective teams and idolized many of the broadcasters that provided commentary on the games. For many, once they exit the tournament they will no longer be basketball players. They get to join us and enjoy the tournament as a spectator.
Four teams remain in the 2016-2017 season and there is much left to be sorted out on the hardwood. One thing is clear, after all the tears and Gatorade baths one thing is certain: we get to experience it all over again next year.