Our family has been running a March Madness pool since the kids were old enough to hold a pencil and make their choices. It's a tradition as old as Little Cuter reading the Night Before Christmas on the night before Christmas. It brings us together in day to day contact, as our teams rise or fall.
When they were younger, there was much discussion surrounding the prize to be awarded to the winner, the runner up, the one whose Cinderella team went the furthest. Cash, Toy R Us prizes, special dispensation from despised tasks ("I don't have to take the dog out in the dark,") were considered, agreed upon, and quickly forgotten. It was more about the games than the rewards.
We were living 3 blocks from the DePaul University gym back when Mark Aguirre and Skip "Money" Dillard and Terry Cummings and Rod Strickland were following Coach Ray Meyers' lead to the big dance year after year.... and losing in the first rounds.... year after frustrating year. DePaul fever was everywhere and, for $5 a game we could walk over and watch our guys compete with the big boys.
Talk about bracket busters; my picks from those years have DePaul going all the way out to the championship rounds. I didn't win very often.
Then NC State and Jim Valvano captured my heart and my attention and riding a hunch, I won 2nd place in the Goldman Sach's (unofficial, of course) pool. The guys were amazed. TBG had to defend my honor - yes, in fact, I did make my own picks. That $92 was the sweetest cash I ever earned. Take that, you sexist sports fans.
This year our local team is trying to put a good face on drawing a bid to the NIT.... they hope. The NIT used to be the biggest deal in post-season collegiate basketball. Regional games were hosted by home teams allowing the fans who'd supported the players all year an opportunity to see them move onward and upward in person. The final rounds were held in the holiest of holy venues - Madison Square Garden.
Time passed and things changed (it's not that interesting a story) and now the NIT is the place where runners-up go to salve their wounds. The hoopla is reserved for the NCAA's March Madness these days.
Don't be confused by all the games you're seeing on tv right now, denizens. The tournament hasn't started yet. We are now in the midst of the conference championships. The winners of the major and mid-majors earn an automatic bid to The Big Dance. Was I the only one who noticed that Harvard will be in the field of 65 this year? Penn could have forced a one-game play-off had they won this week and..... not knowing a single player or coach or the drama associated with either team, I was wrapped up in the story nonetheless.
That's what makes it so much fun. Mark your brackets and all of a sudden you are a huge Gonzaga fan... even if you don't know where Gonzaga is. Butler is your new favorite group of upstarts, though you can't locate them on a map nor name a notable alumnus. You fall on one side or the other of loving or hating Duke or Kansas or Syracuse, and the guy standing behind you and your girlfriend in line at Chipotle chimes right into your conversation.
March Madness is America's Spring pasttime. I am here to encourage you to join in the fun.
The brackets will be revealed on March 11th at 6pm on the right coast. Soon thereafter, on-line competitions will sprout. This year, The Burrow will have its own challenge, and now is the time to start to think about it. Pay some attention to your local sports pages, mining them for nuggest of information that will help you to choose. Listen more closely to the water cooler conversations that start with "Did you see him hit that three pointer last night?" Examine the mascots and decide to pick only the mammals... or the colors..... or the inexplicables (Hoyas? Hoosiers?)
I will post the link to the brackets on Sunday night, and again on Monday and Tuesday, right here in The Burrow. There is no reason to avoid participating. A 9 year old has won our pool in the past. Your job from now until Sunday is to gather facts and consider your options.
And yes, there will be prizes.