How excited do I get about March Madness? Each year, as I fill out my bracket I find myself humming the Christmas tune “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I arrange my schedule and, if necessary, cancel social events to ensure that I can watch as many games as possible. I listen to Dick Vitale’s commentary and find no hint of exaggeration or obnoxiousness; on the contrary, Dick has the unique ability to verbalize everything I am feeling deep in my heart as I watch these games.

What is it about the NCAA tournament that makes it arguably the most exciting sporting event of the year? Maybe it’s that everyone in your office from the ex-jock salesman to the 75-year-old receptionist has the chance to win a couple hundred bucks and bragging rights for an entire year. But more than this, I think what makes March Madness such a spectacle its inherent cruelty.

Think about it: A 64-team single elimination tournament is unparalleled in all of sports. While NBA, MLB and NHL playoffs drag on for months with the same teams playing seven games to determine a winner, a college hoops team’s tournament life could potentially be over in less than 2 hours. Even the World Cup allows some room for error, and these are the best players in the world. But not the NCAA, one missed shot from an 18-year-old kid could seal the fate of every player on the team.

This format means that everyone’s got a shot, from the usuals like Duke or Kansas to schools you’ve probably never heard of like St. Mary’s or Wofford. Cheering on these no-name teams as they take on the giants of the NCAA is one of the most exciting, most American elements March Madness.

Something about the bracket just feels pure, especially when compared to college football’s Bowl Championship Series, which relies on a complex computer ranking system combined with a poll in which only “experts”have a say to determine the best teams in the country. Where’s the fun in that? Talk about elitism.

Adding to the cruelty of March Madness is the tremendous amount of pressure on these young athletes. With so many talented athletes out there, it’s easy to get lost in the fray. For most of these kids, their performance in this tournament is their one shot at attracting the attention of professional scouts. Millions of people could watch you drain the game-winning 3-pointer or Tomahawk jam it over a 7-foot defender. Conversely, millions of people could watch you dribble the ball off your foot or air-ball a free throw.

These guys are not making any money (at least they’re not supposed to be) and each game threatens to be their last. Their futures hang in the balance and for the vast majority of them, the last organized basketball game they ever play will end in a loss.

These kids have everything to gain, and everything to lose. This leads to a fast-paced, no-holds-barred style of play that even my wife gets excited about watching.

This year has delivered the most insane tournament in recent memory, with two number five seeds (including the adorable Butler Bulldogs) reaching the Final Four. Even if you’ve never watched a college basketball game in your life, I whole-heartedly recommend that you tune in Saturday at 6 p.m. EST and let the madness take you in.

 
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Jon Busch

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