While the Super Bowl captivates the minds of over 100 million live and virtual spectators every year, even amidst a global pandemic, I cannot in good conscience call it the pinnacle of sporting events, as that title deservingly goes to March Madness. Despite being mostly remembered for the bracket busting bouts of basketballers, the significance of March Madness as a competition cannot be understated: it is a time when Davids rise to the ranks of Goliaths, when absolutely nothing is safe and your guess as to the champion is as good as mine. This is an especially painful truth for someone like me, an avid fan of one of the best teams, the Kansas Jayhawks, who always manage to lose no matter the talent surrounding them. But this is what gives this game the meaning it deserves. The main benefit of a college tournament is that even when teams get a Zion Williamson or a Chet Holmgren, chances are that’s the only year you’ll have to see them in the tournament, as their eyes eventually turn towards the NBA. And thus, the Goliaths of one year may become the Davids of the next, and you never know what star power each team will have on any given year.
But even with the stars, you can never tell how far your talent can take you. Duke was upset in the Elite Eight the year they had Williamson. This year, Gonzaga didn’t even make it that far, despite being the top team in the country. And of course, for those who don’t know, the unprecedented success of the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, a 15th ranked seed that somehow got to the Elite Eight, took the sports world by storm. Perhaps the greatest thing to come out of New Jersey since Paul Rudd, it’s impossible to root against a team like the Peacocks, one that scratched and clawed its way to prominence when people, myself included, didn’t even know where the university was. But as I say, that is the beauty of March Madness. If the tournament had been shaped like most sports competitions nowadays in a best-of-seven format, chances are the Peacocks would’ve been happy with even getting one win against a juggernaut like Kentucky. But in this tournament, the rules are simple: two teams go in, one comes out. The tournament also benefits from a 64 team format, ensuring that teams don’t play the same opponents they’ve been playing the entire season, which is often the case in most sports playoffs. A good example of this is the Jayhawks’ recent game against Providence, a team that they had never played before. Unlike most sports leagues, you can’t depend on knowing your opponent to ensure your victory, sometimes you have to just game-plan based off of what you see, and hope for the best.
Ultimately, March Madness takes what makes basketball so fun and turns it up to 11. The beauty of basketball is that momentum (and often, but not always, the score) changes at the flick of a wrist, literally and figuratively. The pure chaos that basketball, especially college basketball, is capable of creating is extended, leading to the greatest sports event of the year. Perhaps one change that could develop is a relegation system a la the Premier League, so teams can go up in the league, and maybe someday a lowly DIII school from Poughkeepsie can rise up and defeat the likes of Duke and Villanova. But for now, I can root for the Culinary Institute of America from afar, and just enjoy the runs of teams like Saint Peter’s.