It’s been building for weeks now, even if you haven’t noticed it. The year’s shortest month is now giving way to its most exciting—March Madness has finally arrived.
The time that divides many by affiliation, more by demographic and the most by bracket-building hits the sports world at its biggest lull and draws in more for a longer period than any event in any sport.
It’s a phenomenon that can only be seen in amateur sports. No one paid to do anything can inspire as many as the VCU Rams were able to last year. No professional team could shock as many as the Butler Bulldogs did running the table to the finals two years in a row.
And no LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard can excite a fan base the way “Cardiac” Kemba Walker did for the state of Connecticut quite the way he did when he sent the team on its magical run.
It’s a time when even the most casual of sports fans can relate to and enjoy the spectacle. Few of us played college sports, fewer still have ever been paid to do so.
But we have all competed.
The droves of viewers aren’t there for the star players, they watch for the underdogs, they watch for the walk-ons, they watch for the majesty of amateurism. These players actually care, they claw, they fight. They do whatever it takes. For most, it’s their only chance, and it shows. Yes, the new NBA rules have sent a throng of one-and-done players through the college ranks in the last four years, and some would argue that it hurts the process.
Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans—you name him, John Calipari has probably coached him. However, what I’ve seen from these types of players has been a reaction so polarizing that it has actually improved the competition. It’s taken the idea of the underdog to a whole new extreme.
When someone drops a Kentucky team like UConn did last year and knocks a “freshman phenom” to the early NBA training camps, not only does an underdog win, a villain is slain. It’s a victory for any and all who play to play—who play to win, not for the scouts in the stands.
So when the second week of March hits and CBS can barely sneak in weather updates for the course of a month, I’ll be sitting there with my bracket in one hand, the remote batteries in the other.
That channel is not changing.