Every year when March rolls around you can feel a change in the air. New life is breathed into the earth as the grass turns green, the trees bud and the flowers bloom. However, for sporting fans, March is a surefire indicator of madness. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament never fails to provide some of the most dramatic moments of the year in sports. The athletes competing leave everything they have on the court. They bleed the colors of their school and will do anything to prove it. Breaking down in tears after a loss is a common sight, as is jumping up and down in jubilation after a win.
The fans are often just as emotionally invested as the players. Students, faculty and alumni flock like migrating birds from all over the country to the cities their teams play in. They hold their breath as the final seconds tick off the clock in every game. Regardless if they were cheering for a team that was given less than a one percent chance to make it past their first round, they look as if they’ve just been told they have a week to live when the final whistle blows and their team has lost.
If your team didn’t make it to the tournament, filling out a bracket is the next best way to ensure your blood pressure is alarmingly high throughout the month. People spend hours pouring over results, statistics and everything else related to basketball in order to have a chance at picking as many games correctly as possible. Each year a number of websites and betting services hold bracket challenges that millions of people fill out.
But before any of this happens, the bracket has to be made and released. The bracket is completely unknown up until CBS unveils it each year. When they first began broadcasting the bracket release in 1981, it was a half-hour process. In 2001, the selection show expanded to an hour to build the excitement and suspense. This year, CBS decided to make the show a two-hour endeavor that would have everyone sitting on the edge of their seats. Viewers were not pleased, to say the very least. Nobody cared about watching the CBS panel of analysts attempt to predict each matchup; fans of teams on the verge of making it to the tournament just wanted to see if they got in, and everyone else wanted to start filling out their brackets.
Fortunately for all those who were awaiting the results, less than an hour into the show a Twitter account posted something that simply read “Spoiler alert: full bracket” with a picture of a complete bracket. As the analysts were still fiddling with their iPads trying to circle various schools, America already knew what was going to happen. Both the account and the bracket were taken down within a few hours, but by then it was too late. Basketball fans rejoiced. Tweets along the lines of “Basketball leak guy is the hero America needed,” and “Finally someone put me out of my misery #thankyoubracketleak” were filling the Internet.
Not everyone was as pleased as the viewers were. The NCAA released a statement that read: “We go to great lengths to prevent the tournament field from being revealed early and the NCAA took its usual measures to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, and regrettably, the bracket was revealed prior to our broadcast partners having the opportunity to finish unveiling it. We take this matter seriously and we are looking into it.”
CBS had no comment on the leaked bracket, and with good reason: they were embarrassed. Despite the attempt to swindle viewers into watching two hours of nonsense, the bracket release show had its lowest viewership numbers in over 20 years. Advertisers who paid through the nose to book slots for the final hour of the show are furious as virtually nobody bothered to tune in to a show that was simply broadcasting old news.
If you ask me, the leaked bracket is poetic justice at its finest. CBS’s decision to drag the selection show out for two hours was ridiculous and selfish to say the least. In the end, basketball fans and players got what they wanted, which is what college sports should really be about, and the body that governs them and the network that tried to exploit them were humiliated.