If there's one sport that could come close to dethroning baseball as our national pastime, it's basketball. And 'round this time of year, there's one sporting event that is ever so sacred in the minds of many Americans, one that millions jump on the bandwagon for.
No, kittens, I am not referring to the NCAA college basketball tournament itself.
I'm talking about these:
Behold, the almighty brackets. The grid so ingrained in the lives of so many sports fans (as well as wanna-be sports fans) that it itself has become a pop culture icon. Witness how many magazines and blogs have used said brackets to rank its "best-of" lists. Entertainment Weekly, for instance, recently had a bracket of the most popular television mascots of all time (which, by the way, was won by Flo the Progressive Lady).
It's not so much the teams that get that coveted nod on Selection Sunday that interests me, but rather, how and why people are so emotionally, and in many cases, financially, invested in the brackets themselves. Bracketology attracts all kinds, from the most hard core basketball fanatics who know how to properly spell coach Mike Krzyzewski's last name, to those who only know how to dribble a basketball, to those who claim ignorance yet, around March Madness, proclaim themselves to be the nation's foremost expert on the tournament.
I personally fall somewhere in the middle of not being totally ignorant, yet not quite understanding the whole thing. As a Connecticut resident, it is my birthright to follow the UCONN Huskies. Now, if you're new to the whole NCAA tournament, you may be thinking, "Connecticut? That tiny state next to New York? Land of Steady Habits? Basketball powerhouse?" Well, only for the last 20 years or so. In 1990, Jim Calhoun coached the Huskies to their first Big East title, and then took the team to the Elite Eight. We lost that game to Duke, starting a very long standing rivalry that culminated when we won the national title over Duke in 1999. And let's not forget Geno Auriemma, the Huskies coach who almost singlehandedly put women's basketball in the national forefront. His teams have gone undefeated for several seasons in a row and are known for winning back-to-back-to-back national titles.
I know some of the different basketball terms used: center, forward, point guard, half-court shot, full-court press, three-point line, shot clock, foul shooting. Just don't ask me what they mean, or who stands where on the floor.
Yet every year, I find myself drawn to the office pool, dutifully entering and paying my fee, and filling out those brackets. I have engaged in bracketology every year for the past decade. For the first few years, I found myself either in last place or third from last. But my fortunes gradually changed. For two years running, I was at the top of the leaderboard after the first and second rounds of play. But then I fell out of the running after the Sweet Sixteen. And I actually placed third in two separate tournaments--however, this was only after all of our picks for the Final Four didn't make it. (Can we say George Mason University in 2006, kids?)
So what exactly is the draw of the NCAA brackets? Do people use it as a form of escape? A get rich quick scheme? A chance to relive their college days? Whatever your level of participation may be kittens, I wish you all luck, and...GO HUSKIES!!!