Is March Madness bigger and better than anything college football has to offer?


It’s that time of year again. Regardless of how much college basketball the average person watches in January and February, fans tune in by the million for those few magical weeks known as March Madness. Even more fill out brackets making the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament easily one of the most widely watched and participated events in American sports.

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As a fairly big sports fan, and specifically a basketball fan, I typically tune in on an annual basis. As we approached this year’s tournament, I was quite interested for a number of reasons. I paid more attention. Once again, I’m somewhat in awe of just how big March Madness is.

Of course, the popularity of the tournament (specifically, the brackets) has been a major factor in the anti-BCS angst of which we’ve all been familiar in recent years. If only we had a playoff like college basketball! 

So, as we experience the mass hoopla that is March Madness in 2014, it’s worth asking… is March Madness bigger than college football? Is it better entertainment? Is it a better form of competition?

Before we answer such questions, it’s important to realize that the excitement and popularity of March Madness is not only a function of the tournament format. Of course the single-elimination format contributes to the excitement, but it’s not the only contributing factor. After all, the NFL has a single elimination playoff. Why don’t we fill out NFL playoff brackets en masse?

Surely part of the popularity is due to the overall short length of the “Madness” and the large amount of action squeezed into the few weeks of play. Few events involve essentially four straight days of all-day action like March Madness brings to us with the first two rounds of 64 and 32.

The media plays a large role in creating the madness of March Madness. Any form of upset is shown over and over to the public on television shows like SportsCenter. So much so that it almost seems like upsets are the major aspect of the tournament (which isn’t accurate). From the way the event is covered to the brand itself, the idea of madness is a constant refrain in late March.

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Back to college football. There is more similarity between March Madness and college football than one might think. I would submit that college football is a tournament. It’s a form of madness that is spread out over the weekends of three to four months rather than packed into three to four weeks. The upsets are quite dramatic in both cases. The power house teams tend to be frequent championship contenders.

You might even consider the polling as a form of the seeding or bracket. While the tournament of college football might not unravel quite as clearly as a bracketed tournament setup, in reality it’s fairly similar. Teams are knocked off, the polls like the brackets are updated, and with each set of games, we get closer to a final championship match. We have even adjusted the system, scrapping the BCS formula and opting for a similar selection committee and a version of the well known Final Four. Yes, the similarities are many.

The main difference is that the media can’t talk up the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament enough. Meanwhile, the media has taken every opportunity to blast the ranking system and selection mechanism of college football. The brand and idea of March Madness is gold. The brand and idea of BCS has been discarded and trampled under feet, never to be used again.

Football remains the most popular sport in America, and when looking at college football as a whole (regular season plus post-season), the popularity and ratings don’t compare to college basketball as a whole (regular season plus post-season).

Moreover, March Madness enjoys its place in American sports as a unique form of competition. I’ve typically been pro-BCS over the years, but I also thoroughly enjoy March Madness and that college basketball crowns its champion with the 64 team tournament. Rather than push a mirror image of March Madness onto college football while ignoring the real differences between the sports, why not enjoy and celebrate both sports and the unique features and entertainment they bring to us?

One more thing… while the SEC might not be known for its basketball, the conference has won three of the last nine national championships. Remind your fellow ACC fan this weekend that those three titles are one more than the two that the ACC has enjoyed in the same time span.

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Sitting here watching Tennessee play Iowa in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament & can tell you for certain that this game means more than any bowl game outside of the Nat’l Championship game. “Survive & Advance”: Apply that same principle to college football & it would be exponentially better than the outdated bowl system AND March Madness combined.

  • The NCAA basketball tournament is fabulous. So glad they are finally scrapping the popularity poll/BCS system & heading into a college football playoff system. A few years from now folks will be wondering why it took so long (just like Bama fans have been wondering since 1966).

  • College football is great because it has the greatest regular season in sports. Not many care about college basketball until tournament time. Then, once your bracket is busted, you don’t care at all, unless your team is still in. College football is rare that we have a playoff every Saturday. I’m fine with a four-team playoff. Anything more than four we’re going to diminish the regular season drastically. With a playoff last year, the Iron Bowl wouldn’t have meant anything to anyone outside of Alabama. But the reason it was so dramatic and incredible is because it was essentially an elimination game amongst the two teams.

  • Good article and good comments. Football is a far more physical game. It can never be a big tourney field, last man standing event. Conference championships have to be respected and top 40 teams have to play at least 2 non-conference top 40 opponents. The NCAA needs to control bowl game invitations so that every bowl settles a final ranking question. The tradition of letting media and now a committee vote needs to diminish every year. In years when there is a clear #1 and #2 the play-off should be one game. In years when we need four teams and two rounds, so be it. On the very rare year that 8 teams are needed fine. 8 is clearly the limit to find a true #1. Football play-offs should never be about deciding a #4 thru #8. There is the domain of the most unbiased and well informed and most knowledgeable football observers plus the best computer programs to compare non-conference results. History, tradition, fan-base have no place in the current year’s final ranking.

  • Arkansas wins really big, Missouri wins decidedly, and Tennessee gets off to a bad start but still wins. No loses yet for the SEC. Anybody else thinking the SEC was shorted again in NCAA and NIT invitations. No way does the Big 12 (10 teams) have 8 or 9 qualifiers ahead of 10 of the SEC’s. (right West Virginia?)

  • I love my Vols, but adding a “bracket” to college football would take away from the best sport in college football. Just hope that never happens. I’m a member of the flat earth society and a BCS homer.

  • March madness is greater than anything College Football has to offer, period. Regular season basketball doesn’t hold a candle to regular season football but March Madness is something of it’s own right simply because everyone has a chance if they’re in the tournament. Football does not have that. If Cincinnati, Bama, and Oregon go undefeated Cincinnati doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell at a National Football Title. But in March all Basketball teams start 0-0. Witchita State has done something truly miraculous in the regular season but if they loose in the first round then it means jack. That’s why March Madness will trump anything Football has to offer in my honest opinion. I love SEC football to the death of me… but March Madness is something special.

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