When I was eleven years old my dad gave me a sheet of paper with a bunch of names and black lines on it titled, “March Madness”. How and why does a single month have so much madness in it? It took me some time at that age to understand the mechanics of how a bracket works and how teams end up playing each other. As a young boy, my knowledge about college basketball or even basketball in general was limited to basketball games with friends. Looking at the mysterious bracket I discovered that I was to select random winners for each game until a single champion would be crowned. What I didn’t know was that just filling out this paper could result in a large amount of money for a very small kid. My dad further explained to me that he would take $50 out of ‘my’ bank account and I would have a small chance of winning many hundreds of dollars. Considering I found no actual value in a piece of paper with fifty dollars written on it, I was more than happy to join in some good competition. Filling out my bracket was anything but a struggle. I simply selected the teams with the coolest names to win each game. When referring to the term, “go with your gut”, this was a textbook example. Of course I knew of a few teams like notorious flagship rivals Duke and UNC-Chapel hill and my home state representatives who struggle every year to do well, the Washington Huskies, the Washington State Cougars, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. However, in the grand scheme of things, I knew nothing.
So what is it about March that makes it mad? Can a basketball tournament really result in madness? Only two other sporting events are comparable when it comes to popularity, the Super Bowl and the World Cup. It turns out that March Madness has a much larger effect of creating madness with the spectators who are so intrigued by it then by the actual players in the tournament. Some of these committed March Madness enthusiasts include Barack Obama who published his bracket each year, Jimmy Fallon, rapper Future with the hit single “March Madness”, and Kim-Jong-Un. Thankfully, the North Korean dictator that wants to turn America into a desolated wasteland has promised to spare us until after March Madness. So what is it year after year the draws so many people to this hunger games of basketball? Three big things: watching teams you like, bracketology, and of course, money.
Just like any spectator sport, people love watching their favorite teams play in March Madness to see how far they can get. But as exciting as the games can be to watch live, you don’t technically have to watch any of the games to be immersed in the overall experience. Every year so many fans are involved in the March Madness culture simply by watching their bracket and keeping an eye out on their friend’s brackets. In the new era of apps, it becomes even easier to be involved in the whole bracket competition than ever before. March madness apps, specifically the March Madness Tournament Challenge app, allows fans to check how their bracket ranks amongst the other brackets in their pool and the process is effortless. I’m certain back in the 1990’s, March Madness fanatics intensively watched each and every game and prayed every night that their bracket was doing well or even tried to calculate how they were doing. However, with the computer calculating system within the app, the modern day Mach Madness geek can simply stare at their phone and be just as informed as ever before. Regardless of new technology, people still love the rivalries and upsets that have become the trademark of March Madness. Every year people try and fail to predict what low seed teams will upset the predicted winners, picking a perfect bracket is near impossible. Jeff Bergen, a Professor at Depaul University says that the odds of picking a perfect bracket are somewhere around 1 in 9.2 quintillion(Kiersz). Even Warren Buffet has pledged to give any of his employees who predict the sweet sixteen a million dollars every year for the rest of their life(Kar). Nonetheless, it is this unpredictability that makes the games so fun. Spectators enjoy the thrill of watching their beloved teams take down other opponents and endure the pain of an unexpected loss. It is this perfectly organized setup of the bracketology that keeps people so hooked to March Madness.
The bracket system is such a well-designed and easy system to maneuver that you don’t need to know much about basketball to participate. The number of people filling out brackets only continues to grow. This year, American Gaming Association predict that about 40 million Americans will fill out a total of 70 million brackets(Kiersz). More people this year will fill out a bracket then voted for president. Making your bracket becomes a constant battle between whether to take the strategic game theory approach versus random picking(which can work just as well). Someone with absolutely no knowledge of the sport of basketball has practically equal odds as a sports analyst on ESPN. The bracket system becomes so in depth it seems as if each person has their own “bracket style”. Some people play it safe with all number one seeds winning while others try to fashionably predict random upsets. Predicting upsets is near impossible in March Madness. Throughout the entire history of the tournament, a 16 seed has never taken down a number one seed(Barra). Because there are so many different possible outcomes, it is easy for someone to believe, that with the right strategies, they can win their bracket pool. However, this is just a mind game. Participants who have roughly zero strategy and finish their bracket in a minute often do just fine. While the thrill of filling out a bracket and hoping it does well is fun in itself, the real motive behind most people’s bracket is money.
The late sports historian Bert Sugar said, “horse racing is the only sport that existed because of gambling”(Barra). With the exponential growth of betting interest in March Madness, it’s hard to think about March Madness today without gambling coming to mind. Brackets are filled out by virtually anyone who either likes college basketball or wants to make money(usually the ladder). During the month of March, as long as you’re in school or at work, odds are you’ll overhear plenty of talk from random people about how much money they’re losing from the tournament. With bets being made from $10 up into the millions, the epicenter of this whole madness falls where the rest of the countries madness belongs, Las Vegas. There’s about 9 million dollars being wagered each year for March Madness in the U.S., and a large portion is lost and gained in Las Vegas, the gambling capitol of the planet(Barra). Each year, experts in Vegas make ‘well-educated’ and strategic guesses as to who will do well in the tournament while ordinary fans choose whether or not to take their word. Each year in March, all the millions of bracket enthusiasts lose anywhere from $10 to hundreds of millions of dollars at the expense of one lucky winner who takes home the jackpot.
At the end of the madness in March of 2009, I was the lucky winner who took home the $800 jackpot in my dad’s work pool. What my dad thought would be a fun, competitive game for me to take part in, turned out to be my first draw to the benefits of gambling. Throughout the next nine years I’ve managed to keep my distance from gambling as I understand the harsh realities of the average gambler. However, I have March Madness of 2009 to thank for my longer lasting eviction to the tournament itself.
Barra, Allen. “Is March Madness a Sporting Event-or a Gambling Event?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Caple, Jim. “Why NCAA Basketball Tournament’s March Madness Has Global Allure.”ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Kar, Ian. “Warren Buffett Pledges $1 Million a Year to Employees Who Predict the Sweet 16 in March Madness.” Quartz. Quartz, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Kiersz, Andy. “The Odds of Getting a Perfect NCAA Bracket Are Way Better than 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.