Have you even wondered why March Madness – seemingly just a series of college basketball games played by athletes, the vast majority of whom we will never hear about again – captures our imagination in a way unparalleled by any other major American sports tournament?
Here is my Elite Eight list of reasons:
- Passion – Players are not playing for money (even if schools are) and you can feel the intensity, sacrifice, hard work, energy, and love that capture the meaning of amateur – “lover of”.
- Community – Between university bands, insane student sections, mascot antics, and intergenerational-shared school pride, the feeling of belonging to a community, to a tribe is palpable. From 64 teams to 32 to the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight to the Final Four to the championship, we go together on a two-week journey filled with twists and turns, ups and downs and dramas of triumph and defeat.
- Equality – There are no experts in bracketology! You can do all the analyzing, use all sorts of metrics from serious use of statistics to favorite team colors or mascot, the odds of predicting every bracket correctly are roughly 1 in 9 quintillion. In the eyes of the basketball gods, during March Madness we are all equal.
- Miracles – In March Madness we not only get to believe in miracles but miracles happen. The underdog, the unheralded school inevitably pulls off a major upset. A 14th seed beats a 3 seed. Mercer (where is Mercer?) beats Duke! And we all are magically transformed into temporary alumni of the Cinderella team.
- Team – Unlike professional sports where having the best player on the court really makes a difference, the best teams in college basketball are not necessarily those with the best individual players. It’s individuals – who play best as a team. I’s who become We’s.
- WinnerS – You don’t have to win it all to be successful. For some teams winning one game can be as important as going to the championship game. There is recognized accomplishment all along the way and there is more than one winner.
- Memories – Ahhh those were the days. When we were young and the times seemed so much more innocent. The freshness and wildness of all our emotions. There were no real worries and many days (and nights) of pure bliss. Renew our days as of old!
- Tradition – There is so much lore and culture associated with March Madness. Beginning in 1939 with just eight teams, there have been 35 different champions. There is the UCLA of John Wooden that won 10 national titles, the Kentucky teams, and the 1985 Villanova upset of big bad Georgetown.
Interesting, when you look at this list it looks like a good prescription for the job religion should get done.
Irwin Kula is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Irwin’s writing has been featured in The Huffington Post and the Washington Post. He is the author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life and a co-editor of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices. Irwin has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The O’Reilly Factor and PBS Frontline. Irwin also serves as President Emeritus of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.