High-stakes drama of college basketball engages fans everywhere

Callie Hawkins

As the dust settles on the first rounds of the NCAA tournament, basketball fans across the country are on the edge of their seats for the next wave of upsets and buzzer-beaters that March Madness never fails to deliver. With brackets busted and Cinderella stories in the making, the upcoming rounds promise to be exhilarating for die-hard basketball fans and casual March Madness observers alike.

The first NCAA tournament was in 1939, but it was not known as March Madness until 1982, when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger used the term when covering the tournament. The annual college basketball tournament has become a beloved American tradition over the years.

“I have watched March Madness as long as I can remember,” senior basketball captain Christian Rockamore said. “I have participated ever since like fourth or fifth grade because [when I lived] in Memphis, they would hand out the kids brackets [at school]. A lot of us didn’t know what we were doing, and we would just pick our favorite teams to win.”

Making brackets has been a fun way for friends and families to bond over a shared interest and have a friendly competition with each other. The bracket is chosen on what is called “Selection Sunday” by the NCAA committee of the top 68 teams who they deem worthy of an invitation to the tournament.

“I have played basketball since I was in first grade and have been participating in March Madness for the last five years,” freshman and varsity basketball player Tatum Reynolds said. “My dad has definitely influenced both my love for basketball and March Madness because we would always have a college basketball game on. My mom and dad played basketball in high school, and my dad has been making brackets for at least 25 years.”

You don’t have to be an expert in basketball either in order to make a bracket or participate in March Madness. Junior and football and lacrosse player Charlie Neuhoff enjoys taking part in the tournament with his friends just as much as the year-round basketball fanatics.

“I normally make a bracket with my family, friends and lacrosse team,” Neuhoff said. “Even though I don’t play basketball, I feel like [March Madness] is a great way to compete while we are all over the nation, and it keeps us in touch.”

Competing with family and friends is always fun, but why not up the stakes for a reward? There are many online challenges and competitions, some for fun and some for money. The Capital One Bracket Challenge is the most popular public challenge and easy to join and make groups to compete in it. In 2014, Warren Buffett, American businessman, philanthropist and the sixth wealthiest person in the world, offered one billion dollars to any person who filled out a bracket. Of course, no one won, but it got everyone excited about the tournament and making a bracket. He stopped making that offer to the public due to privacy and security reasons but still offers it to his employees at Berkshire Hathaway.

I love March Madness because of the close, high-stakes games and the crazy upsets.

Tatum Reynolds

“Usually, I do it with my friend group; you can even go on ESPN or CBS Sports and make fantasy brackets online with your friends, and then whoever wins can get a certain amount of money,” Rockamore said. “Or you can just do it for free to see what’s the best bracket. There’s also always the bracket challenge. Whoever has a perfect bracket among everyone in the US gets a lot of money. So it’s always fun, whatever way you choose to participate.”

A lot of people pay attention to either the mens or womens tournament, but some like to watch and fill out brackets for both.

“I love March Madness because of the close, high-stakes games and the crazy upsets,” Reynolds said. “I made a bracket for both the mens and the womens leagues, but I pay more attention to the mens. I made my brackets by looking at rankings, but mostly because I thought certain teams would [perform] better against others even though they weren’t ranked as high.”

Recruiting and Engagement Specialist Kelly Howe has been organizing a competition for the teachers and faculty at the school for the past couple of years. This year, 33 staff members are participating in the competition.

“The Human Resources team likes to find fun ways for our staff to compete,” Howe said. “March Madness gets us talking about our favorite teams and a fun way for those, like me, who don’t know much about basketball to get involved. We’ll be crowning our top three winners soon.”

This year’s tournament is definitely madness. Among many upsets, for the second time in history, the sixteenth seed beat the number one seed in the first round. On March 17, Fairleigh Dickinson University beat Purdue University 63-58. This upset is even more shocking because, statistically, FDU has the shortest team in the league. Although FDU lost in the second round to Florida Atlantic University, they will be remembered for their first-round victory. Some other upsets include Arizona, seed two, was beaten by Princeton, seed fifteen, and Texas A&M, seed seven, was beaten by Penn State, seed ten.

“Watching the FDU vs. Purdue game was electric,” Rockamore said. “Being with my friends made it very interesting as I was happy to watch but sad because my bracket crumbled even further with another upset.”

As for the women’s tournament, in the first round, seed 11, Mississippi State, beat seed six, Creighton University, Florida Gulf Coast University, seed 12, beat Washington State, seed five, and Toledo University, seed 12, beat Iowa State, seed five.

Womens varsity basketball coach Erma Bryant played one year in the March Madness tournament when she attended Liberty University, and her oldest daughter played in the tournament for three years on the University of Pennsylvania’s team, so she enjoys watching the women’s tournament more than others might.

“I’ll watch throughout [the tournament], and then towards the end, we’ll all watch together [as a family],” Bryant said. “We all kind of have the teams that we like and root for, and my husband likes [watching the] men’s tournament, but I kind of [watch more] of the women’s side.”

This year, the women’s final four games are being hosted in Dallas at the American Airlines Center, and through the school, Bryant is getting the opportunity to volunteer with fellow coaches.

“They’re having all these events for the women’s tournament downtown, starting Thursday, March 30, where you can watch practice and stuff,” Bryant said. “So my friend who coaches outside of here, we’re going to do it together. [We are] helping with round tables because they also have clinics and events that happen there that coaches can attend. And so the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association will have different discussions during our volunteering.”

For both men and women, this year’s March Madness tournament has been a wild ride with upsets and surprises, with underdogs prevailing and giants being defeated. As the tournament comes to an end, fans and bracket-makers will no doubt be glued to their screens, eagerly anticipating the outcomes of the remaining games.

“All in all March Madness is a great time to bond with friends and experience basketball in a new light,” Rockamore. “I encourage everyone to participate in March Madness and find their new favorite team.”

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