About $3.5 billion is pumped annually into NCAA tournament bets by the millions of people across the country who fill out their March Madness brackets, according to The Palm Springs Desert Sun, a staggering amount of money, there for the taking for anyone who makes the right guesses.
“Anyone”, this year, amounts to three guys at George Mason and, possibly, Jesus. Scratch that; Jesus had UConn.
Let’s be honest: Every year, we, the sports geeks of the world, print out a bracket and spend time computing mindless statistics into our impressionable minds, ultimately pumping out a scratched-and-scribbled concoction that we pray will mirror the actual tourney, game-for-game. And, let’s be honest to a fault: Every year, our selections are wrong. Dead wrong. Michigan-State-in-the-finals wrong. Or, conversely, Florida-upset-in-the-first-round wrong. Or, if you’re like me, both.
The problem? Parity in college basketball has never been higher, and will never be this high again. The mass exodus of elite talent to the NBA has led to a thinned-out college crop, which has taken about a decade to create an even playing field, but will be no more next year, thanks to a new 19-year-old age minimum in the NBA. For this year, though, it means schools like Wichita State can not only beat Big East powers like Seton Hall, they can be seeded ABOVE them in the process. So it seems, with parity comes even more nonsense analysis about who will win and why.
But we keep coming back, for one reason or another. To be honest, I thought I knew the reason; $3.5 billion sounds pretty enticing, sounds up for grabs, sounds as available as J-Lo after a breakup, when, in reality, it’s easier to get confidential Gitmo documents than it is to have a flawless bracket.
Which is exactly the point: NCAA tourney betting isn’t about being illegal, isn’t about making the money. It’s about pride. Why else do you think the office is generally the proverbial arena in which these bets occur? Why else do you think George Mason students would actually have George Mason in the Final Four? Why else do you think Hofstra, a school that didn’t even MAKE the tourney, would give its head coach a five-year extension (only because his team beat George Mason twice in the regular season)?
And, since this man’s pride was battered thanks to a series of unforeseen upsets and non-upsets alike, there seemed only one viable solution.
So there I was, flanked by Tennessee Colonel Joe Baxter, last week at Titanic, filling out our NASDAQ-100 tennis tournament brackets. And there I was, thinking Rafael Nadal would make the semifinals in the men’s draw, and giving Justine Henin-Hardenne a free ride to the championship.
They both got upset the next day.
I haven’t researched it yet, but I think Carlos Moya went to George Mason.
Ben Minkus is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and philosophy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.