By Vaibhav Rajeev Gowda
November 6th is a date that should be marked on everyone’s calendars. As dutiful citizens take pride in exercising their civic duty in this upcoming midterm election, students across the country gear up to cheer on their schools for the next 5 months in what could be the most exciting period in sports. Basketball can arguably be considered the most exciting of the popular sports. It includes constant scoring, incredibly athletic plays and very close finishes that could end in a buzzer beater or a game-changing block. But what makes it most exciting is the way it’s organized at the college level.
Unlike the cutthroat system of college football — which consists of 5 major conferences in a 4-team playoff where teams with more than 1 loss have 1 honorary bowl game, if they’re lucky — or the best-of-7, conference-based series of professional baseball, basketball or hockey, college basketball has 6-7 major conferences plenty of great mid major conferences that are highly competitive that ends in a knockout tournament. It is a system that is far more forgiving, with far greater rewards throughout the course of the season. Teams can always redeem themselves from a bad start at the end of the season, where winning the knockout format championship game secures a berth to the big dance regardless of regular season performance. This year’s opening day matchups include #1 Kansas vs. #10 Michigan State and #2 Kentucky vs. #4 Duke — games that will get the excitement started from day one. This is followed by great out-of-conference matchups and showcase tournaments, after which conference play begins in January and goes on until every team has played every conference opponent at home and away.
All this leads up to college basketball fans’ favorite month: March. March is when teams make their efforts pay, when tears are shed and courts are stormed, when conference tournaments are played for teams to secure an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. For those who don’t, there’s the highly anticipated Selection Sunday, when the tournament committee announces the teams that are selected on live television, without the teams knowing their fates until that moment. The teams are divided by the committee into 4 regions with teams ranked from #1 to #16 each, the winners of which will eventually meet at the Final Four. After the selection committee is done doing their work, expert and first-time “bracketologists” get to theirs. Filling out a March Madness bracket is something so hard that Warren Buffett once offered to award $1 billion to anyone who can fill out a perfect bracket — as you can guess, it never happened. This makes it a great activity amongst friends and office colleagues where no one ever really knows what is going to happen. Almost every possible outcome has occurred in the NCAA tournament with the exemption of a #16 seed beating a #1 which, happened for the first time this year when the #1 Virginia Cavaliers were beaten by the #16 ranked UMBC Terriers. Finally, the season ends with the National Championship game, a game that never ceases to entertain, where unknown names become school legends and national icons.
In a professional sport where the last 4 finals have been played by the same two teams, college basketball could not be more different. It may consist of more superstar coaches and fewer superstar players, most of which might never play professionally, but it’s played with unparalleled passion, giving the students, alumni and locals unimaginable energy to cheer them on. College basketball may not be the highest level of basketball, but it’s played as if it is, and organized like a spectacle. It is the most exciting form of the most exciting sport. It is the most volatile, unpredictable and emotional, and it may just be the greatest showcase in all of sports.