I heard someone say last week that the NCAA Tournament might be the most entertaining sporting event. As I thought about it, I realized there might be some truth to that statement. This year a record number of people watched as perennial powerhouses like Kansas and North Carolina were defeated while the relative unknowns of Butler and VCU made it to the Final Four. Why do people care so much when their own team is eliminated and home watching on TV themselves?
The greatest thing about the NCAA Tournament is any Division 1 team can make it in. If you win your conference tournament, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you’ve demolished all of your competition during the year or if you had mediocre results. This year’s University of Connecticut team was 9-9 in the Big East and found itself in 9th place in the crowded conference. Had they lost their first round game in the Big East tournament there is no guarantee they would have made it to the larger NCAA tournament at all. So all they did was play 5 games in 5 nights, win the Big East, and solidify their space. Now they are looking like favorites to win it all. It’s as simple as that, win and you’re in. Everyone has a chance to qualify.
Grandma Can Join In the Fun
Every year people everywhere fill out NCAA Tournament brackets in hopes of winning various prizes. This year almost 6 million brackets were completed on ESPN.com alone. Everyone fills out a bracket. People get their grandmothers involved hoping that they won’t have any biases and will pick the right underdogs. Sports scholars put statistics and metrics to work hoping that knowledge truly is power. Others just pick randomly hoping that it’s their selection that will get them the gift card or pot of money at the end of the tournament. By the end of the second round, most of us have thrown the bracket away promising never to bother picking again, at least until next year.
I’ve said it before but people either love or hate Duke. Whichever way you lean, you do so passionately. Duke is always a high seed in the NCAA tournament and you can almost bank on them making it to at least the Sweet 16. This gives the lovers and haters of Duke plenty of reason to watch…and cheer…or not. With Duke involved, you can guarantee a sporting event will garner attention and a fervent crowd.
America loves the underdog. Once your team has been eliminated from the NCAA tournament there’s a good chance you start to root against your rival or for the underdog. While a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed there have been plenty of upsets in the NCAA tournament. In 2006, George Mason became the highest seed (11) to ever make it to the Final Four and gained many fans in the process. No one wanted the Cinderella story to end but no one was surprised when they were beaten and eliminated by eventual champion Florida.
Enter Butler University in 2010. Butler, a #5 seed, made it all the way to the final game versus (loved or hated depending on your perspective) Duke. While many people had never heard of the small Indiana school many rooted for them to do well and take out Goliath. Butler was able to hold their own and got within a balls bounce on the rim of beating the Duke Blue Devils for the NCAA title. It was a great story and no one expected to see anything like it again.
This could very well be the year that Cinderella wins it all or UConn could put the finishing touches on a run that is nothing short of amazing. You might still have a chance with your brackets (surely the one team you have in the Final Four can win it all, right). Either way, there’s a chance you’ll watch at least some of the Final Four on Saturday. So maybe that guy was right when he said its the most entertaining sports event.