The March Madness Opportunity

           The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is starting again and it’s a big time for basketball fans, players and schools alike. The name of the event is March Madness because a crazy amount of basketball is played in a short amount of time and it’s exhilarating for everyone involved. But there is a very real method behind the madness.

            When analyzing what separates play and sport, Guttmann discusses how the “more highly structured events” (such as the NCAA tournament) attempt to create an escape or illusion focused on play which is separate from reality. Guttmann proceeds to say that “in his many guises, the ‘spoilsport’ stands ready to dispel the illusion and to allow the rainbow world of play to ‘fade into the light of common day’” (14). I intend to be the aforementioned spoilsport and shed light onto the non-play aspects of March Madness.

Generating publicity is one of the primary goals of every college in order to increase admissions and revenue. The tournament provides one of the only opportunities for some of the smaller schools to receive public notice and as such, is a very serious business venture. If a team makes the tournament and manages to pull off some upset victories, it can generate some otherwise unattainable opportunities for the coaches and players in addition to creating prestige for the college.

Gonzaga is one of the prime examples. Gonzaga is not in one of the larger basketball conferences and has not historically received much notice from the public eye for its basketball. All of that changed when Gonzaga made its “Cinderella run” in the 1999 NCAA tournament. Against everyone’s expectations, Gonzaga made the elite eight and exposure from their success allowed their head coach Dan Monson to take a head coaching position at Minnesota. After their big run, Gonzaga drew many more talented recruits to its basketball program and continued to be successful in the years to come. Now a-days everyone has heard of Gonzaga and the school receives more attention (and money) than ever all because of one deep run their basketball team made in the NCAA tournament.

Guttmann declares that one the distinguishing characteristics of modern sports is equality. He states, “everyone should theoretically have an opportunity to compete” and “the conditions of competition should be the same for all contestants” (26). This is not how NCAA basketball functions however. “In actual practice there are numerous inequalities,” the most obvious being that not every team makes the tournament and therefore does not receive the same possibilities for media attention. Every school does not have the same amount or allocate as much money to their basketball program, nor do they receive the same talent level in recruits. Thus the playing field is not level even before entering the tournament. And if a team with a smaller program does manage to make it, they are probably a low seed and will have to face one of the best teams to continue by how the tournament is structured.

Despite all the inequalities beforehand, once a team is on the court they are playing the same game with the same rules so there is some sense of fairness. If a team manages to make it to that point, they can shape their fate by winning against the odds and changing the future of their school, their coaching staff and their individual players for the better. So the NCAA tournament may be a serious, scary, career-determining event for many, but it remains twistedly beautiful since there’s always the chance that a new underdog will make it this year. 

Used: Guttmann From Ritual to Record chapters 1 and 2.

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