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March Tournament Brings out “Madness” in College Basketball Fans

They don’t call it March Madness for nothing, and that’s because of the sheer unpredictability of the event. In 2015, NC State, seeded eighth, shocked No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round. In 2005, the 10th-seeded Wolfpack upset their way into the Sweet 16. You can almost depend on a double-digit seed winning at least one, if not two or more, games in this year’s Tournament.

They don’t call it March Madness for nothing, and that’s because of the sheer unpredictability of the event. In 2015, NC State, seeded eighth, shocked No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round. In 2005, the 10th-seeded Wolfpack upset their way into the Sweet 16. You can almost depend on a double-digit seed winning at least one, if not two or more, games in this year’s Tournament.

The onset of symptoms can come on rapidly.

Dry mouth. Sweaty palms. Loss of voice. Rapid heartbeat. Fits of anger and euphoria.

And it can last for weeks.

It’s time for the annual phenomenon known as “March Madness” or “The Big Dance,” when scores of people in all walks of life become hard-core college basketball fans, filing out brackets for bragging rights and maybe a big payday while sweating out every pulsating moment.

By the time a champion is crowned on April 2, the Tournament will have staged 67 games as fans, some with a dog in the fight and others just rooting for the underdog, take part in the pure pandemonium that captivates and, in a way, galvanizes an entire nation for three weeks.

Just drop by about any sports bar and see for yourself.

“It’s a fun, cool and unique environment with tons of games we can put on different TVs,” says Casey Valdez, the operations general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings on North Academy in Colorado Springs. “I think it’s impossible not to see the energy it creates.”

That energy will have a little extra juice if one or more teams from Colorado can grab one of the 68 spots in the annual event. The University of Colorado has reached The Dance several times, most recently in 2012-14 and 2016, while Colorado State took part in 2012-13 and Air Force in 2004 and 2006.

The mega-event gets its start on March 11, when the nation will have its eyes on the Selection Sunday show on CBS. During the telecast, the 68-team bracket will be revealed, region by region, as sports prognosticators begin breaking down the games, who they predict will make the Final Four and reign as the champ.

And at the same time, millions will print and fill out brackets, hoping to show up those so-called experts.

According to a recent estimate by the American Gaming Association, some 40 million Americans are expected to complete more than 70 million brackets and wager approximately $9 billion on the NCAA Tournament.

Games start with what’s called the First Four on March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio, featuring two contests each day in which teams try to advance into the main bracket of 64.

Then on March 15-16 – a period some call the best two days in sports every year – 32 games take place in a feeding frenzy of basketball. The first of the 16 daily games start with tipoffs just after 10 a.m., and some 12 hours later the final buzzer will sound.

This is when the true magic happens because of the way the bracket is constructed, seeding each team 1-16. In each region, No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 meets No. 15, and so on, in the first round. Usually, the favorite wins, but every year, a double-digit seed captivates the nation, doing the seemingly unthinkable by taking down a top team.

Sometimes, these “Cinderella” stories go one step farther. In 2013, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, No. 13 La Salle and No. 12 Oregon all upset their way through the first weekend. 

By the end of the event’s fourth day, March 18, the Sweet 16 will be known, and the nation will have a mere 72 hours to get ready for the next round of games. On March 25, we’ll be down to the Final Four, which will battle it out the following weekend in San Antonio.

Don’t worry about your bracket, which probably will be riddled with X’s by the end of the first weekend. You won’t be alone. Some mathematicians believe it’s next to impossible to pick every game right, putting the odds somewhere around 1 in 128 billion.

Your chances at winning the Powerball are significantly better at 1 in 292 million.

So don’t sweat the small stuff. Just enjoy the action in the comfort of home or perhaps with the friends you’ll meet at a place that offers a larger TV and made-to-order food and snacks.

“There’s something about the camaraderie you get by watching college basketball games with people you don’t know,” said Brian Fortner, the co-owner of Heidi’s Sports Bar in eastern Colorado Springs. “Everyone shows up to see what’s going on. There are some guys who get pretty wild about it. March Madness is a big deal.”

Believe it or not, that wasn’t always the case.

The Tournament was first staged in 1939 with only eight teams competing and for years lagged in prestige behind the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Through gradual expansion (32 teams by 1975, 48 by 1982 and up to 64 in 1985) and TV coverage, the NCAA Tournament became one of the most famous and anticipated sports events in the country.

How big is it now? Two years ago, the NCAA announced an eight-year extension of its TV deal with Turner Broadcasting and CBS Sports for a combined total rights fee of $8.8 billion.

It’s unlike anything else in sports, and it’s time, once again, for the Madness to begin.