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Brackets, Buzzer Beaters, And Cinderella Stories: Why March Madness Is A Welcome Distraction


The world has gone mad, but in a beautiful touch of irony, an annual college basketball tournament known for its own brand of mayhem is here to offer us some relief.

March Madness has always been a huge distraction for me. When I was an elementary-aged homeschool student and that first Thursday morning slate of NCAA tournament games rolled around, I couldn’t focus on anything other than basketball, especially the schoolwork my mom was trying to get me to finish.

The moment we were on lunch break, my brothers and I immediately turned on the games. We were then right back at it after school, glued to the screen until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.

For the next few weeks, we woke up and went to sleep to the voice of Jim Nantz and the tune of the famous CBS theme song.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Letting the tournament distract me became easier as I gained more independence and went to college. My professors’ lectures during those few weeks in March had to compete with the split-screen footage of tournament basketball I was watching on my laptop, preferably in the back of the classroom.

For decades, March Madness has done what all sports are supposed to: Give us a brief escape from the madness of this world and throw us into the thrill of competition. In a culture dominated by daily political controversy that often boils into insanity, the month of March is a welcome relief because it provides an escape from a world gone mad into a world of hopes, dreams, and magical three-point shots.

We love March Madness for the many things it offers us — the buzzer-beaters, Cinderella stories, and bracket challenges — but we also love it for what it doesn’t give us: the overbearing political agendas constantly being shoved down our throats by the legacy media, Hollywood, and even professional sports.

March Madness is successful because it gives us a massive dose of what we want from it year after year: do-or-die basketball.

Other than the tournament’s pure entertainment value, March Madness also offers our minds a much-needed break from the constant bombardment of tragedy and stupidity of the world we live in. Instead of worrying about Chinese spy balloons, UFOs, and train derailments, March Madness lets our minds wander to bracket pools, three-point percentages, and our team’s chances to win it all.

Not that we shouldn’t care about the world events around us. It’s important to stay informed, but every once in a while, we need to decompress. And this tournament’s “shining moments” will give us a much-needed distraction as every tournament since the spectacular event’s inception somehow manages to provide.

For those who aren’t convinced that March Madness is the distraction you need for the next three weeks, consider the magic it has given us in the past and promises to give us again.

The 2023 tournament will be the 83rd time that teams run the gauntlet to make it to the top of the college basketball mountain, and it only gets bigger every single year. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has grown in size and popularity since its humble beginnings in 1939 when only eight teams played for the right to be crowned national champions. Oregon defeated Ohio State by a score of 46-33 in the untelevised inaugural championship game played in front of just 5,000 people. 

Twelve years later, in 1951, the tournament expanded to 16 teams. It was during this 16-team format that legendary coach John Wooden had his remarkable run at UCLA with the Bruins winning seven consecutive titles between 1967-1973. The tournament doubled to 32 teams in 1975, and the sport’s popularity would explode from the late 1970s into the ’80s thanks to the likes of Michigan State’s Magic Johnson, Larry Bird of Indiana State, and of course, North Carolina star-turned-basketball-legend Michael Jordan.

Indiana State’s Larry Bird (L) and Michigan State’s Earvin Johnson are a tangle on the floor under the Michigan State basket early in the NCAA national basketball championship game. Michigan State won the championship 75-64.

While covering the 1982 tournament, commentator Brent Musburger used the term “March Madness,” the official nickname for the tournament ever since. In 1985, March Madness doubled again to 64 teams, and then in 2011, the “First Four” stage of the tournament was introduced, bringing the total number of teams invited to the event to 68. 

That’s right — March Madness showcases 68 teams who compete in a combined 67 games crammed into three weeks, and it’s all brought to the viewer through the miracle of live TV. What’s not to love? 

And it gets even better.

Ever since David triumphed over Goliath, people have fallen for the underdog story, and every year, March Madness reminds us that the little guys always have a chance. Take the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s historic victory in the 2018 tournament for instance. While being tasked with taking the court with the unfortunate name “Retrievers,” UMBC became the first 16-seed to win a game in the tournament, taking down the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers. 

There was also Lehigh’s improbable win over Coach K’s Duke dynasty in the first round of the 2012 tournament. We all cheered for a small school called Butler when their team reached back-to-back Final Fours in 2010 and 2011 and came inches away from beating Duke in the 2010 national championship game.

We fall for the feel-good Cinderella stories like Florida Gulf Coast’s “Dunk City” Sweet 16 run in 2013, Loyola’s 2018 Final Four run helped along by their team chaplain and 98-year-old nun Sister Jean, and the 2022 story of St. Peters with their charismatic young coach. We hold our breath when the biggest games in the sport go back and forth in the last minutes before being decided on a last-second heave, such as Villanova’s spectacular victory over North Carolina in 2016. 

Starting with tip-off in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday night, until the final horn on April 3 in Houston, we can take a small break from the outrageous talking points spewed on nightly news talk shows and turn on the TV to simply appreciate a group of 10 young men showcasing raw talent on the basketball court. 

Thank goodness March Madness is here. Welcome the distraction, fill out your brackets, cheer for the underdog, absorb the excitement, and brace yourself for the unpredictable.

I’ll be catching every minute I possibly can.

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