Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Madness

The brackets are out.

Wondering what I'm talking about?  Confused about the title?  Then you're probably going to be aggravated with me quite often during these next three weeks.  It's my favorite time of the sports year, and, in my new role as blog-caster to the masses, I've decided that it is my obligation to entice you to join the fun.

First, the background.  The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is the much maligned "voluntary organization through which the nation's colleges and universities govern their athletics programs," according to  Governance implies an organizational structure, but just try to find it on either of those websites.  Google NCAA PRESIDENT and the first few listings take you to Myles Brand, who died on September 16, 2009.  That should give you a clue as to the efficiency, efficacy and enlightenment which the NCAA brings to the the table.  Their rules are arcane and there's really no way to successfully disagree but it's all there is, so that's that.  If you want to play sports in college, you deal with the NCAA.  If you want to watch college sports, you're watching an NCAA product.  And don't think that it isn't a product -- why else is there a both dot-com and a dot-org website?

"It is comprised of institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals committed to the best interests, education and athletics participation of student-athletes," the dot-org site continues.  Best interests..... one could take issue with that on many many levels with many many instances and grievances and absurdities and redundancies but that's not my point in this post.  I'm just going to ask why there's an "s" at the end of athleticS in that sentence and move on.

The NCAA sponsors season-ending tournaments in some sports and not in others - football being the most obvious example of a sport without a tournament.  No, the BCS is not a college football tournament, but, again, that's fodder for another post.  (See how kind I am to you non-sports fan readers?)  Basketball has a 65 team tournament every March, and that is the point of this post.  

65 teams?  How can you have an odd number of teams in a one-loss-and-you-are-out set of brackets? Conference winners receive automatic bids to the tournament, which presented a problem for the NCAA when the Mountain West conference was established in 1999.  Their winner did not receive an automatic bid to the tournament and no small amount of turmoil ensued.  Beginning in 2001, the NCAA instituted a "play-in" game, for the 64th and 65th ranked teams.  They did this in order to avoid having to eliminate an at-large bid for the tournament. 

Does this not make sense to you?  Don't worry..... I'm not sure it's supposed to.  Remember, this is an organization which hides its governance on its website.  It's not designed to make you comfortable or to enable you to clearly understand its decisions.  They decide and the players abide.  And the rest of us watch, because it's all there is.

Anyway, once the play-in game is finished, the 64 teams deemed worthy of participation (neither Tucson's UofA nor the Little Cuter's Indiana were so honored this year..... sigh....) begin 3 (long) weekends of play.  The first games of the full tournament begin this Thursday, March 18th, at 12:25pm ET.  That's 9:25 in the morning here in Arizona (we don't do daylight savings time... we have enough sunshine already).  The 64 teams are divided into 4 sections, 2 of which compete on Thursday and Saturday  and 2 of which play on Friday and Sunday.  This is called "the first and second rounds" or "the first weekend".  

The second weekend of play, referred to by the cognoscenti as The Sweet Sixteen, begins on March 25th.  Getting through the first weekend and into the Sweet Sixteen is a real accomplishment.  There are Cinderella teams (lower ranked but winners anyway) and favorites and suddenly teams which have been over-looked are now sportcasters' darlings.  Siena, Austin Peay, St. Joe's, George Mason ..... these teams have broken my heart over the years by defeating my higher ranked favorites.  

MY favorites, you ask?  Hang on for a while and we'll get there.

After the Sweet Sixteen comes The Elite Eight and The Final Four, whose games are played on the subsequent weekend, culminating in the championship game on April 5th.  Yes, it's March Madness, but remember, it's the NCAA......the calendar seems to be fungible. 

The best part about March Madness is the spirit.  Real team spirit.  Rah-Rah Sis Boom Bah.  College alumni and parents and students and neighbors and co-religionists are all bound together in a love fest.  There's joy and there's sorrow and there's amazement and there are always surprises.  DePaul lost one game all season long (to Notre Dame, on my birthday) when we lived 3 blocks from their 2000 seat stadium in the early 1970's and then they went to Las Vegas for the tournament and lost in the first round.... two years in a row.... to nothing teams from nowhere.  Can't you tell that I'm still suffering?

Since there is so much involvement from every part of the country it's only natural that March Madness would spawn a gambling empire.  Office Pools, legal or otherwise, abound.  I would like to declare, for the record and posterity, that I came in 2nd and won $92 in  TBG's iteration of that event in 1983 by knowing that Jim Valvano would take his team to victory.  And yes I made my own picks.

Picks are where we are going next, Dear Readers.  Do not be afraid.  I will walk you through it. It's easy and it's fun and you will have talking points all year long if you participate in the First Annual March Madness in the Burrow Tournament.  If you click on that link, it should take you to the home page of the Burrow's tournament challenge; if it doesn't work, try clicking here and search for Burrow-Ballers....and don't forget the dash. 

Why, you ask, should you do this?  You know nothing about basketball and you care even less.  You are already in three pools and don't want to expend the energy to join another.  What's the prize?  Why do I care?  Well, as the motto of our group so aptly puts it We don't know... but we care.   This is a fun and easy way to participate in the American conversation over the next few weeks, and don't we all long to be connected?  There are no prizes, except for the glory which will come from having your name announced in a special winner's edition of The Burrow.

I think you'll be surprised at how much fun 5 minutes of your time right now will give you over the next 3 weeks.  

And if nobody does it, I won't be sad.  I've got the family pool going on.  

But really, this isn't a mommy-blog and it's not an elder-blog and it's not a reviewing nor a political nor a media-centric blog.  It's The Burrow and we're making it up as we go along.   

So, try it... you'll like it......

Want some tips on entering?  If not, skip the rest and make your picks.  Right now. 
So, now you are committed.  You click through and are asked for your ESPN account.  If you don't have one already, this is your opportunity to create your web persona.  Just as I write as Ashleigh, you, too, can exist in the ether and still protect your real self  from intrusion.  Think up your name and password and there you are. If you opt out of all the emails they'll never bother you... I've had an account for years and I promise that this is true

You can make up more than one persona and mix it up by entering more than once.  You can invite your friends or children to join, too.  
You can use any method at all to pick your teams, and you can tell us about it in the comments or keep it as your own secret.  The (#)'s after the team names are their rankings within their quarter of the whole tournament.  There are 4 number 1 teams and 4 number 16 teams.  You can pick upsets based on uniform colors or on the strength of each team's offense or defense.  How do you find that information?  Hover over the team name and there it is.  
Click on the team you think will win each game and the program automatically moves them to the next round.  

Questions?  Worries?  Complaints? Ask below and I'll try to help.

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