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Hefferon: The Greatness of March Madness (Jan. 30)

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

 

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a 10-part series discussing the best event in sports. In this installment, Jack Hefferon argues for March Madness.

The series is about finding the greatest event in all of sports. And, so far, writers have argued for some of the biggest games around. But why settle for just one?

I have an event of a bigger variety in mind. It takes over the country for three weeks every year, bringing us dream matchups and unknown underdogs. Almost everyone watches, and even more people have a betting interest in it.

I guess the real question is this: Why have one great game, when you can have 67?

March Madness is the king of sports festivals. It begins on Selection Sunday, which falls on both the last day of spring break and St. Patrick’s Day this year, forming some kind of mega-holiday. On that date, the field is set, matchups are analyzed and everyone you know becomes an expert on bracketology (plus, how many other events have pseudo-sciences named after them?).

Then, the tournament begins officially with the First Four, an idea that added three play-in games that I initially despised. More is good but pushing much past 64 teams borders on overkill. Still, these games are a good way to ease into the tournament, and allow fans to watch small-time teams play on national TV for the right to be a sacrificial 16-seed. It’s the calm before the storm.

Then, the greatest four-day weekend in sports happens. The opening-round games are stacked to put the tournament favorites against heavy underdogs, but every year several Davids upend Goliaths to move on. Every game of the tournament is now nationally televised and streamed on the web, which is especially critical on the opening weekend. It has been estimated that billions of dollars of productivity are lost every year by the distraction these games cause and, if one of my professors has read this far, it’s the reason I won’t be in your class on Thursday the 21st. (Sorry, but that’s your fault for having class that day in the first place.)

And as the field of 64 winds down to 16 and 8, we go from fun upset bids to powerhouse matchups, with one-seeds meeting two-seeds to determine who will survive and advance.

The Final Four concludes the tournament and is an event on par with any other in its own right. It has gotten so big the court has had to be placed in the center of an enormous football stadium to accommodate the crowds, and it always seems to feature games for the ages.

And when the tournament is over? Well, winning six games in a row in three stress-packed weekends against the nation’s best competition is basically impossible, but one team finds a way to do it every year. And, when they finally do, they get their One Shining Moment, and the title of undisputed national champions (something college football is still working on. A four-team bracket? Step your game up.)

Basketball is not like other sports. Whereas football puts all its emphasis on the regular season, every basketball team worth its salt will make the Big Dance. And, while the merits of one single tournament determining a champion can be debated, there’s no question about one thing:

That one tournament is the greatest.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.