The NCAA college basketball championship tournament often goes by the moniker March Madness, and for good reason. It's not only the student bodies that seem to lose a bit of their sanity come March, what with their painted torsos and teary eyes after an unexpected loss. The madness of March is indeed ubiquitous. Major networks dedicate countless hours to the broadcasting of a seemingly endless cascade of buzzer beaters and squeaky sneakers, reasonable men and women sneak out of work at 11am to catch their old university teams in a first round game, and normally indifferent college basketball fans take to agonizing over predicting the outcomes of each and every game in what has now become known as "bracket fever."
Families don't have to be on the outside looking in at the madness-and fun- surrounding the tournament; they can easily get involved. The NCAA tournament has become so popular because of its appeal to even the most modest of sports fans, and it's arguably the most viewer friendly major tournament in American sports.
The first step to getting your family involved in the tournament is filling out a bracket, or the tournament schedule. The brackets are a cumbersome undertaking, with 64 teams playing 32 games in the first round alone. The brackets are organized by the regions where the games are scheduled to be played, with each region consisting of 16 teams ranked 1 to 16 based on their regular season results. Within each region the highest ranked teams are pitted against the lowest (1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 13, etc.). Despite the seemingly lopsided matchups, results are far from a fait accompli, with major upsets unexpectedly occurring each year. Families with little or no basketball knowledge should use the team rankings as a loose reference while picking winners or losers. For example, although a team ranked 16th could plausibly win its first game, it is highly unlikely it will win the championship. You may find that your kids -especially the younger ones-will not be picking based on stats.
Tournament brackets are extremely easy to come by, with printable versions available on most sports or news websites and blank copies printed in most major newspapers before the tournament begins. Families can take two different approaches when filling out brackets: either completing one family bracket together or allowing each family member to fill out his or her own bracket. The advantage of the shared bracket is that the entire family can root for the same teams together, while the advantage of individual brackets is that they give children a sense of propriety over the activity. Admittedly, many parents are aware of the competitive nature of the individual brackets and are uneasy with the undertones of gambling that hang over the bracket process. Parents will have to assess the demeanor of their family before deciding which bracket is best for them.
Cheering Them On
When choosing which teams to root for, many parents are inclined to encourage their kids to support the university they attended, which is not always a great idea. Choosing a team to follow is a good opportunity to allow children to assert their independence a bit, even if it is a rival of the team you happen to root for. Kids may choose teams for odd reasons, such as uniform colors or an intriguing mascot, but allowing them the freedom to choose is a good way to keep them invested and involved. And you never know, they may actually be interested in supporting Mom or Dad's alma mater.
With so many games being played at once, the network, CBS this year, switches back and forth between the different matchups depending on which are the closest at a given time. This allows viewers to watch the most exciting parts of each game and keeps the action moving at a fast clip, especially during the opening rounds. The quality of basketball is excellent during the tournament and provides a nice introduction to the game if your kids are interested in playing or already do play; the effort and sportsmanship levels are very high and the play is team-oriented, especially when considered alongside that of the NBA, which often focuses play around star players.
And for the Girls
March Madness is not just for the boys. The NCAA also holds an equally comprehensive championship for the women's basketball teams at the same time. Though not promoted as aggressively, the women's tournament is just as intense as the men's, with the Final Four games filling stadiums and whipping the student bodies of their respective schools into a frenzy.
The tournament runs from March 16 through April 5, and consists of a dizzying number of games-so one can easily be forgiven for not catching every minute. Engaging in the madness of the tournament, if only for a game or two, can be a great way for families to get involved in the hysteria that will surround them. Just be sure not to go too crazy-it is just a game, after all.
Unfortunately, this year's NCAA basketball tournament will not include any games played locally. Nonetheless, there are a few area teams that often have a shot at making the tournament, some of which have a history of success on the big stage.
St John's University Red Storm:
St. John's has a proud history in the NCAA tournament, although much of that history occurred far too long ago for many fans. Despite having among the most wins in all of Division 1 college basketball, the Red Storm has never won a championship and hasn't been in the tournament since 2002. Nonetheless, St. John's has appeared in the tournament 27 times, including two Final Four appearances.
Hofstra University Pride:
Hofstra plays in a small conference, which makes it difficult for the team to qualify for the NCAA tournament, unless it manages to win its conference tournament, which is no small feat. The Pride of Long Island appeared in both 2000 and 2001, though it has never won a tournament game in their four all-time appearances.
The University of Connecticut's success has led to a large following throughout the tristate area. Of all the local teams, UConn has had the most success, including 29 tournament appearances, three trips to the Final Four and two Championships. UConn is poised the make big waves in March Madness this year-it would be a shock if the Huskies don't make the tournament this year. The Connecticut women's team also has an interesting history, having won five national championships in the past 10 years. Count on hearing about both Huskies squads come mid-March.