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.
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.
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