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03242013-8March is all about rebirth, renewal…and basketball. This year, March Madness, aka The Big Dance—the annual national obsession with college basketball—began on March 19th. The three week, single elimination series concludes with the final tip-off on April 8th. That game will decide the 2013 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Champion.  (The women’s series is played now too.) For the next two weeks, fans will revel and regret, jeer, and cheer. New rivalries will be born as Cinderella teams earn an unexpected win and losing teams must wait for redemption.

03242013-4March Madness is an affliction basketball fans cannot seem to shake. (Perhaps they do not want to.) Be careful what color you wear during the next two weeks; rabid fans do not take such things lightly. The ‘wrong’ shade of blue in North Carolina can send Duke (royal blue) and UNC (light blue) fans into fits. You also might hear fans speaking ‘basketball’: intently discussing “seeds” and “brackets”, reliving “alley oops”, “toilet bowls”, and “Hack-a-Shaqs.” If you do not understand basketball, you can write off the next two weeks. Or, you accept the Madness and learn to dance the Dance by learning something about the sport and the series that inspires these mad, mad March days.  

How to Play the Game
03242013-1 What do you play during the long, cold New England winter? It was the need for an indoor winter sport that led Dr. James Naismith to invent basketball. Naismith’s original rules have changed over the past 122 years, yet Naismith’s game has endured. Basketball is now played worldwide and its popularity and influence have increased exponentially.  

03242013-3The NCAA Tournament is an event complete with huge venues, mascots and cheer leaders, team uniforms and slick advertisements. However, basketball became popular long before all this hoopla existed. The simplest explanation of how to play basketball is this: score points by getting the ball through your hoop; do not let the other team get the ball through their hoop. Of course, there is more to scoring than this. It helps to understand the layout of the court and the equipment. One of the beauties of basketball is that it can be played with as few as two players (1-on-1), or with a full team. There are rules to ensure fair and safe play. Understanding a few basic rules and violations will help you understand why the referee is blowing the whistle or why the coach is blowing his top. Keep in mind, there are differences between the rules for professional (NBA), college (NCAA), and international (FIBA) basketball.

The NCAA Tournament

03242013-2The Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament is the Super Bowl of college basketball. It begins with a pool of 68 teams and, through single elimination games, slowly whittles them down to 64, 32, Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and then two teams. The winner of the final game is the 2013 NCAA basketball champion. Along the way, teams are selected, seeded, and plugged into a bracket. Take a closer look at how March Madness is organized.

03242013-12The Tournament is overseen by the NCAA, college athletics’ governing body, and only teams from Division 1 schools are eligible to participate. Which schools’ teams are invited to participate—and which are left to watch from the sidelines—is a decision made by the selection committee using a loose set of criteria. Once the list of teams is complete, the selection committee assigns seed numbers. Each time a game is played, the field decreases by one. There are no second chances. If you lose once, you go home. After several weeks of games, March Madness reaches a frenzy in early April when the Final Four play. (If the explanation of March Madness shared by HowStuffWorks left you unfulfilled, and if you are a Star Wars fan, you may appreciate an explanation of March Madness that features JarJar Binks and Star Fighters.) With some basketball under your belt, challenge yourself to a basketball quiz.

03242013-11March Madness comes complete with a graphic—a bracket-- that follows all the action. Study this year’s bracket; identify the regions, seeds, and winners of rounds one and two. Why was Harvard the Cinderella team of the year?

03242013-5For weeks before the Tournament began, eager fans submitted their own brackets hoping to predict this year’s winner. Some used team records, individual match-ups, or seeds as their crystal ball. Others relied on average team height or the color of the uniforms. But really, there is no science behind bracketology, no matter how much you want there to be.

03242013-7If you have yet to jump on the March Madness bandwagon, perhaps you can get excited about the mascots. There is no shame in using the mascots to pick your team. Some of them clearly embody athletic prowess more than others. Diehard fans might challenge themselves to identify the team based on the photo—without reading the caption.

03242013-13So, where do all these rabid fans live? Are some areas of the country more affected by March Madness than others? Facebook mined its data to find the answers to these questions. Check-out a map of March Madness fandom.

The Money Behind March Madness

03242013-14 March Madness may be mega fun for fans, but it is also big money. Not for the athletes, mind you, but for the NCAA and the schools each team represents. Athletes receive no money for their play, and they may not accept gifts. Critics believe student athletes should be paid. The NCAA President disagrees. Watch an excerpt from Frontline’s episode, Money and Madness.

Explore the five ways March Madness generates money for the NCAA and Division 1 schools. How much money? Consider the NCAA revenue from TV alone. Listen as NPR’s Marketplace questions, “How much TV money does March Madness make?” The NCAA distributes approximately 60 percent of its revenue. There are benefits to schools whose teams appear even briefly in the Big Dance. Two downsides to March Madness are the spike in gambling and the loss in productivity as fans bet the brackets and are glued to the tube.

03242013-9Despite the money controversies, fans flock to March Madness. It remains an exciting series of skill and, for some fans, loyalty. It tempts fans—and players—with a microcosm of the American Dream: Cinderella teams that enjoy the thrill and affirmation of a hard-earned, unlikely win and the sweet possibility of another. For most players, this is the pinnacle of play. For most seniors, the NCAA Championship marks the emotional climax to their careers. Most players will not advance to the NBA. The odds are not in their favor. This Mad moment is their time to enjoy a national spotlight and to do their sport, their schools, and themselves proud against a field of worthy opponents. Game on!