America is ready for March Madness and all the drama it brings
FOX Sports Columnist
We are coming into the time of year when it is not just acceptable as a sports fan to spend countless hours binge-watching television. It is virtually your duty.
March Madness is here, just as mad as ever and perhaps quite a bit more so, providing a legitimate option to utterly consume your life and all your decisions for the next month.
If you haven’t been paying much attention throughout the regular season, that’s completely fine and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of what awaits.
The fun begins, as always, with the conference tournaments, a collective staple on the calendar that for a long time appeared likely to be removed this year because of the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, that’s not the case, and so the next week commences an extravaganza of 31 (no Ivy League) conferences determining a victor, followed after Selection Sunday by the entire field descending upon the Indianapolis region to crown an overall champion.
There will be games everywhere you look, so many a remote control won’t suffice, and laptops, tablets and phones will come into streaming play. It is total overload, completely excessive in terms of number and scale, and resoundingly compelling for all those reasons.
It’s all here for you, and there’s really only one way to do it properly.
"People love it so much because it is great basketball but also so much more than that," FOX Sports college basketball analyst Mike DeCourcy told me via telephone. "Its popularity starts with the ease of getting involved with a simple office pool that is easy to understand and doesn’t have to be elaborate.
"Any time you watch, you are going to see something dramatic. And you get to see these teams rise themselves up to compete beyond what is expected of them – and have a chance."
College basketball’s dream month doesn’t really lend itself to casual interest. It’s all-in time, a weeks-long episodic that starts with a flurry of ceaseless opportunity and barely pauses for breath.
Not an expert? Never mind. By the end of the first weekend of the tournament, everyone is.
We can give you the CliffsNotes easily enough. Gonzaga, still undefeated heading into the WCC Tournament, and Baylor, 20-1 after a three-week COVID layoff, are exceptionally good. Michigan — sitting at 19-2 and fresh off a commanding, 19-point victory over in-state rival Michigan State to wrap up the Big Ten regular-season title — is also elite. Duke, this time, is not and might need an ACC Tournament triumph to get into the field.
According to FOX Bet, the favorites are Gonzaga (+250) and Baylor (+300), with Michigan just behind at 4-to-1 odds. Perception suggests that it is not a wide-open field like last year, when cases could've been made for 20-plus teams heading into the tournament.
Ahh, last year. We didn’t know at this time last year that the global pandemic would still be a manifest effecter of life a year later. Back then, when the NCAA Tournament was first decreed to be played without fans, then scrapped altogether, it was a sudden shock.
It was an odd sort of loss, small in comparison to everything that was unfolding and about to envelop the world but also personal and real. The heart strings still tug for Obi Toppin and his wonderful Dayton team, denied the chance to make school history.
Can it really be that a year has passed? It hasn’t been one of "those years." It has been the only year like this.
Now, March Madness is back, and it comes to us demanding nothing more than our time and promising so much in return: all those Cinderellas, tales of mid-majors punching strong, seniors on their final turns, electrifying drama.
Once you start watching, it is darn near impossible to stop.
"There are a lot of great storylines this year," DeCourcy said. "Gonzaga might be the most under-the-radar undefeated team in college basketball history. Things have been different. With no crowds, there are different factors at play. But it feels like sports — and America — is ready for March Madness and all it brings."
Cognitive scientists have done numerous studies on why humans are predisposed to binge on television shows, with the concept beginning with box sets and moving into overdrive in the Netflix era.
One study divided the level of obsession into four categories: stayed up all night to watch a show, watched a new season in 24 hours, canceled social plans to watch a show and watched a show at work.
Well, perhaps college hoops is the civilized version of binge-watching, with the first two impossible with basketball due to scheduling. No one has many social plans currently, anyway. As for watching at work, well, that’s kind of always been a thing, hasn’t it?
There are so many games that keeping up is like a competitive sport in itself. March Madness is morning to night, nonstop, outstanding fun.
Get the snacks ready, but please, please make sure they’re healthy because a month of chips and candy will rot your insides before the Final Four rolls around. Bust out your bracket, do your best, and prepare to get scooped — as usual — by the nice person in HR who makes their picks based off mascots, colors and nicknames rather than stats, facts and Andy Katz.
So often, the results don’t make sense, nor are they supposed to.
What’s coming over the next month is designed to shock and emote. It is unpredictable and uplifting and heartbreaking and joyous. It’s Madness. It’s March. And it’s marvelous.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.