The madness is here — why sports fans love the road to the Final Four

It’s that time. Perhaps the biggest sporting event of the year — combined with two of the lowest work production days — bring smiles, tears, heartbreak or unbridled joy to millions.

March Madness is upon us!

It began last Sunday with the selection committee report. Sixty-four (68 if you include the First Four In) teams would be going to the Big Dance. Notice I did not say the BEST 64. It would be impossible to say that for two reasons: 1) you are taking the conference champions from a host of leagues and 2) choosing the best teams would be a subjective task at best.

That means some deserving teams were left out — see the unhappy reaction from North Carolina State — and that’s always going to happen. But the field was set and the excitement began. It will wrap up in three weeks with the crowning of a champion.

So we are all frothing at the mouth to see how the tournament will play out. Why do people get so worked up over this sporting event? Well, in my totally unofficial opinion, there are three primary reasons.

First — nearly everyone has a favorite college team. It may be your alma mater or it may be the biggest university in your state. It could be that you have picked a team to be different from your family, neighbors or the common “school” of thought. Am I right, Todd?

Some people will pick a team for its colors, or mascot or cool nickname. I’m not sure these are “real” sports fans, but they will be paying attention the next three weeks. If your team is in the tourney, you are going to follow the action.

Second — if you are a sports fan, you’re going to tune in just like you would for the Super Bowl, World Series, Kentucky Derby, Indy 500 or any other big time sporting event. The NCAA basketball tournament may not be any more important to them than other events, but it is a sporting event. Therefore they watch.

Third — Bracketology! It would be interesting to get an accurate count of how many people actually fill out a bracket. Thousands of people will do so. Some will bet large amounts of money to try to best a field of predictors while others may throw in a buck, hoping mostly for bragging rights.

It is such an easy thing to do. All you have to do is secure a bracket and write in the name of the school you think will win the game. It is not rocket science. It is however, addictive.

I compare it to going to Cracker Barrel restaurants. They have that little wooden triangle with the golf tees in all but one hole. Your job is to jump the pegs until only one is left. It’s not easy, but we sit there waiting on food and try our luck — sometimes, again and again.

I’ve had very little luck with that game, but I play it every time I go there. Likewise, I have had very little luck filling out the brackets, but I do it every year, even if I have nothing riding on it.

When I was teaching we had a lounge pool. Students had their own version of an “office” pool, usually discreetly, but everyone was in some kind of contest. Now I fill one out just to see how smart (or not) I am.

I heard on the radio this week that Duke University calculated the odds of someone filling out a perfect bracket. What are your chances? Would you believe 1 in 9.2 quintillion? I have no idea how many zeroes that would involve, but you do have a better chance of winning the lottery!

The first round games are now over. The two “workless” days have come and gone. With games starting at noon on Thursday and Friday, workers spent more time checking results than working. They wanted to see if their brackets were about to be busted.

So how are your brackets faring? How many of you picked Wofford? How many of you know where Wofford is located or what conference it plays in? For your information: Wofford is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the Terriers play in the Southern Conference. They have also won 30 games, so maybe some of you did pick that upset.

Did you pick Liberty? The Flames, out of Lynchburg, Virginia, won their first ever NCAA tournament game. It was a No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup. Three of the four No. 12 seeds won. The only one that didn’t was New Mexico State who lost to Auburn by a single point.

If there is a primary reason for watching these games it is the David vs. Goliath matchups. When a low seed knocks off one of the big schools it is such a rush for everyone. For the players, the fans and yes, even us watching — whether we picked them or not.

Last year’s tournament provided the first ever upset of a No. 1 seed as Maryland, Baltimore County knocked off the University of Virginia. This had to be the biggest upset in the Cavaliers history, right? Probably, but do you remember the Ralph Sampson led the UVA team that lost to Chaminade in Hawaii?

After today we will be down to the Sweet 16. The action will pick up and our brackets will be further broken.

Welcome to March Madness. Enjoy the mayhem.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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