This year’s NCAA tournament is in full swing with all of the upsets, all of the powerhouses being, well, powerhouses, and all the drama and excitement that has become the norm. I’m no big basketball fan, and frankly, to me March Madness is more than anything else an indicator that baseball season is around the corner. Nevertheless, March Madness just seems more watchable to me than, say, a high-profile NBA game or a Duke-UNC matchup. It’s sort of got what I’ll call a “world cup effect.”
I might not be a big basketball fan, but I’m even less of a soccer fan; I know absolutely nothing about it. Yet, when the world cup rolls around, I’m glued to the TV watching every matchup I can. Is it because the U.S. is in it? Maybe that has something to do with it, but any world cup game is still incomparably more interesting than watching an MLS or Premier League game for someone who’s not a soccer fan. So why is the world cup more interesting? Two reasons: First, and more obviously, the stakes are high. Second, and perhaps less obvious, is the high amount of publicity both the World Cup and NCAA tournament get.
The high stakes are obvious. Championships, bowl games, once-every-four-year tournaments, and anything in the same category is much more watchable than a regular season game. Still, that doesn’t tell the whole story. I would never think to watch the League of Champions final or the aforementioned Duke-UNC game unless I happened to come upon them while channel surfing. Why? Because I’m not a big fan, so I’m not going to care or know that the game is on. However, when local sports channels and major media outlets alike are hyping it up weeks or even months in advance, both the World Cup and NCAA tournament become interesting to me. Suddenly, I—like so many others—develop an opinion on college basketball and/or soccer.
Leaving the World Cup analogy behind, when the NCAA tournament rolls around, you better believe I fill out a bracket and inform myself enough to be able to talk about why I picked who I picked to win, or why I picked a certain 14 seed to take down a 3 (which this year I didn’t, unfortunately), a la president Obama. If a big game is on, I’ll probably hear about it and will therefore watch it. Even when it’s a first round game that features a high-profile 2 seed against the Middle of Nowhere Conference (or MNC) champions, the storyline is still compelling. A few years ago, when unknown 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast took down big bad 2 seed Georgetown, the national media wouldn’t shut up about it for days on end.
Stories like these make the NCAA tournament compelling. The one-and-done style of the tournament makes the stakes high. All sources of sports media cover it. And when all these things are put together, the result is a concoction that a non-basketball fan like me can tolerate and often enjoy watching until baseball season.