From the NBA and NHL regular seasons winding down to MLB’s Opening Day, March has historically been an exciting month for sports fans. However, one tournament takes place during the month which attracts sports and even non-sports fans alike: the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
With 63 games taking place over an 18-day span, it is easy to understand why even casual sports fans enjoy the fun. From high school clubs to large-scale corporations, people in different groups enter their brackets in a pool with hopes of winning money and/or prizes. This poses an intriguing question: Why do people take this tournament so seriously, compared with the playoffs of the other four major league sports?
Freshman Zack Travelsted said he believes March Madness is popular because of its upset nature. In the 2018 tournament, No. 16 University of Maryland, Baltimore County upset No. 1 Virginia in the First Round of the South Regional, while No. 11 Loyola-Chicago made a run to the Final Four.
“I think it’s fun to get the whole family or my friends involved and bet on a bunch of games through the bracket,” Travelsted said. “People get into it because of the unpredictability: Who’s going to go far and who’s not.”
According to a study conducted by The Smithsonian Institute in 2014, the odds of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, yet more than 60 million Americans fill out a bracket every year. In 2012, 6.45 million brackets were entered into ESPN’s Bracket Challenge. That number rose in 2018, where 17.3 million brackets were placed in the same challenge.
The history of creating March Madness brackets and entering pools dates back to 1977 at Jody’s Club Forest, a bar in Staten Island, New York. In 2006, 150,000 entries were placed at Jody’s. Each cost $10, which brought the grand-prize to $1.5 million for the top bracket.
Currently, sports betting is legalized in 10 states, while 28 states have introduced a bill to legalize the activity. Between the rise of gambling and having a lengthy period dedicated to the sport, junior Kaleb Houghton said he is not surprised with the tournament’s cultural influence.
“The fact that sports betting has become legal is going to be huge for the NCAA,” Houghton said. “I think most of [the excitement] just has to stem with all the teams that are in [the tournament] and any of them can realistically win it.”
As the tournament constantly brings new faces to the table, it gives fans a reason to watch potential stars of tomorrow. Current and former NBA stars including Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis have all been received the award for the tournament’s “Most Outstanding Player.”
“Everyone wants that right to say they’re the best team so I think it makes for a very competitive system, and it’s very entertaining as well,” sophomore Jarred Van Hauter said. “It’s 64 teams, so it’s a huge tournament and there’s a lot that comes down at the end.”
Overall, the possibilities for creating a bracket remain endless, as several make their picks based on mascots, knowledge of the school and even selecting all the upsets possible. Van Hauter said this strongly contributes to the tournament’s marketability
“It’s a fun time when it comes to sports,” Van Hauter said. “I think [March Madness] might be one of the most prominent times when it comes to talking about the playoffs for any of the major sports, especially since it involves colleges.”
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