There is so much wrong with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The 35-second shot clock is ridiculous. A team could legitimately start milking the clock at the 10 minute mark of the second half to secure a victory (frankly, I’m not sure why more teams don’t practice this). The 3-point line is far too close, keeping terrible teams a shooting barrage away from contention. And the games – man, the games – are sloppy, ill-conceived manifestations of The Beautiful Game. Players don’t value possession; can’t run offensive sets; and lack fundamentals. And that’s before we get into the NCAA itself – the hierarchical organization running the gig that oozes hypocrisy.
Despite all this, there is just as much to love about the tourney.
The fanaticism surrounding the tournament is infectious. The only sporting event that rivals March Madness’ hype is the World Cup, and that has more to do with the pageantry around a worldwide event than the games themselves. NCAA tournament games are ugly, but the stakes are always high and are rarely without drama. The World Cup can claim the stakes and skill level, but can’t touch the drama that unfolds during March Madness. And in the world of sports, Drama Is King. Write that down. And sure, the players have no idea what they’re doing, but there is something incredibly endearing about watching manic styles collide.
And that terrible entity I mentioned earlier presiding over March Madness? Luck, evidently, is on its side. By bumping up its age restriction, the NBA inadvertently created a world where traditional powerhouses only have cache in reputation, rather than in dominance. Programs are forced to reload rosters due to top-tier players bolting campus after their freshman season. That leaves the door open for Mid-Majors (if that term even has meaning anymore) who carry upperclassmen to consistently upset The Old Guard. It’s a win-win situation.
Let’s go back to the infectious component, because that’s the crucial piece to the March Madness puzzle. By nature, the sports world is an exclusionary environment. A team survives and advances and the rest are left watching from the sidelines. March Madness inverts that concept, morphing into an inclusionary environment that offers attraction for the middle man: Want something to root for? Here, fill out a bracket, get involved! Watch this group of undersized, overmatched college kids from Wichita State catch fire and upset Gonzaga!
Remember, in sports Drama Is King. We never know when the next Miracle On Ice or Tuck Rule game will be, but we do know, with unusual certainty, that March Madness will present something close. It’s telling that March Madness consistently leaves us shocked. I guess expecting the unexpected is easier said than done.
Follow Metro columnist Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__