America’s Obsession with March Madness; What’s All the “Bracket” About?

March Madness is a very strange American societal phenomenon.  When the NCAA basketball tournament is underway, millions of Americans drop what they’re doing and spend hours upon hours watching grown men, bouncing a little orange ball, trying to throw it through a netted hoop.  Throughout the entire month of March, loud outbursts of male voices are commonplace in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across America.  By contrast, college basketball isn’t highly popular with viewing audiences throughout the regular season, but something happens on the first day of March Madness, and it’s about all anyone in America seems to talks about.  Many American corporations capitalize on the country’s obsession with the tournament by running advertisements directed at males, during the games.  It’s a very promising way to for corporations to build awareness for their brands among millions of American men.  Many of their commercials directly incorporate March Madness into the scripts.

 Just like before the Academy Awards, when movie fans fill out ballots predicting who they think is going to win in each category, the same is done for March Madness.  People fill in bracket sheets with which teams they think will win each game, beginning with 64 teams, and ending with one winner.  There is usually a financial reward for the person with the “best bracket.”  Before, during and after the games, people will reference their bracket sheet to see how their predictions match up with the final results.  In order to fill in their brackets, some people take hours analyzing the season records of each school, while others attempt to mathematically predict the brackets, however, none have managed to narrow it down to an exact science, “The nature and the largest common denominator of all games, has at the same time the advantage of placing their diversity and relief and enlarging very meaningfully the universe ordinarily explored when games are studied.” (Callois, 9)  A very common method of filling in the brackets is to choose by the team mascots, or even the colors they like better.  But the biggest badge of honor is given to those who successfully predict which “underdogs” will defeat which “power-houses”.  The reason a correct underdog pick is such a celebrated event, is because March Madness is a tournament that any of the 64 teams can win, on any given day.  A team you have never heard of, like Mercer University, can win their first ever NCAA tournament game against a basketball giant like Duke University despite the fact that “on paper” Duke is the better team.  For those who pick the underdogs, and win, there is an amazing sense of pride.  It’s so easy to pick a powerhouse school such as Duke to go all the way, the person who chooses Mercer to win the whole thing, and gets it right, will be the hero in their pool.

Underdogs that win the NCAA tournament are celebrated more than power-house teams upon returning home.  The reason for this may be that power-houses are expected to win and underdogs are not.  This is not unsimilar to how winning Olympians are celebrated in their societies. “In fact, the men who proved their physical strength, their agility, their courage and their endurance through their victories in the great festivals, of which those at Olympia were the most famous, stood a very good chance of gaining a high social and political position in their home society if they did not already hold one.” (Elias and Dunning, 123)  

If 2014 is anything like past years, March Madness will be chock full of upsets, land-slides, and hopefully a few Cinderella stories.  

 

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