Right about now the lovely females of Kenyon College are being
reminded, again, of why guys are from Mars. Two words: March Madness,
a.k.a the greatest time of the year. The "Madness" of the 2008 Men's
NCAA Tournament does not actually refer to the games, but rather to
male behavior from the Ides of March to early April. But why? Why do my
mental sanity and physical well-being depend on the outcome of Old
Dominion versus Butler? (Some of you are saying "who?", but I could
give you Butler's tourney history in interpretive-dance form, if
necessary.) Why do I spend months monitoring the status of conferences
like the Horizon League and the Northeast Conference-which apparently
has two schools named St. Francis?
I could tell you that it was all about the magic of the tournament, and that would be partially true. Like last year, when I watched six-foot-on his tip toes-Michigan State guard Drew Nietzel put up 26 points in a loss against heavy favorite North Carolina. As the game ended and he stumbled off the court, a teary Nietzel vowed his team would be back the next year. Some years ago, I almost cried watching No. 15 seed Hampton beat No. 2 seed Iowa State. Why? Because those big, tough meatheads you like to make fun of were weeping like babies. One team ached from the monumental failure; the other, from knowing they had won the impossible challenge.
Undoubtedly, such stories are numerous and beautiful, and they are certainly why the players play. But why do millions of people, the vast majority male, log onto ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament Challenge for the $10,000 grand prize, and why are homes and work places inundated with 8½ x 11 printable brackets? This was best described by ESPN radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning show. They call the brackets "Sheets of Integrity." In today's world of political correctness, sensitivity training and Grey's Anatomy, it is nice to know that this last vestige of pure truth and righteousness exists. You are right, or you are wrong. You rule or you suck. It is your manly-though many women do participate in the Challenge-duty to have your knowledge and pride on the line. The rather large 65-team field means that you cannot simply guess your way to the top; you have to earn it! You must painstakingly monitor games to prove your aptitude.
Of course, this just adds to the absurdity of the whole thing. Despite
all your prep work, the tourney never goes according to plan. About 95
percent of people who fill out brackets have to be restrained from
ripping them to shreds after the first weekend. Three years ago, I was
998 out of 2.25 million on ESPN.com-I was games off. This gave me a
false sense of hope that I could win. Two years ago, it was because
some school named George Mason Community College made it to the
basketball Mecca known as the Final Four. In fact, do you know how many
people out of the over two million who entered ESPN.com's Challenge
predicted the four teams (Florida, UCLA, LSU and George Mason CC) in
the Final Four? One. Not one in a million-one in over two million. This
guy, who was not me, got himself a three minute interview on
Sportscenter, just like A-Rod, Tom Brady or Lance Armstrong. Can all
you non-believers begin to see the immortality that awaits he who can
unlock the mystery of March Madness?
Well, my girlfriend certainly did not. Last year, she left me on the computer for an hour and came back to find me still clicking buttons on ESPN.com. Predictably, she was mortified. I had managed to fill out four brackets in this time. What she did not know is that for the last week I had been thinking about them once every six seconds. Then I showed her the names and themes of my four new babies: Master C, I Hate Duke, The Big Ten Rules and Upset Special. At this, she collected herself and ran to the nearest TV, hoping for a Grey's Anatomy rerun. Maybe she is right to scorn this practice. I am three years older than a lot of the guys who I pin my hopes on. Perhaps we, as fans, are forgetting the important parts of life like family, friends, education, sleep and occasional sobriety. Then I smile, because it hits me that college football is less than five months away.