The appetite for and popularity of College Sports in the USA is unparalleled and little short of extraordinary. Consistently high game attendance in some colossal arenas, remarkable television ratings and sales of college team apparel reflect a nationwide passion for various college sports - be it American football, basketball, baseball or ice hockey.
One of the many must-see College sport events is the NCAA men’s Division I Basketball Championship, which has earned such effusive nicknames as “March Madness” and the “Big Dance”. The NCAA tournament, played every Spring, is a single elimination tournament to determine the USA’s finest college basketball team. During the month of March, the college game dominates the sporting agenda as entrenched rivalries re-surface and people all across America talk about little else other than the NCAA Tournament.
Sixty-eight teams from four regions qualify for the NCAA tournament. Of these 68, 32 earn automatic slots by virtue of being conference champions and 36 are awarded berths by a selection committee. The same committee also assigns each team a seeding within the bracket and divides the teams up into four regions.
Every year during the weeks building up to the NCAA tournament, millions of people across America fill out a bracket predicting its outcome and eagerly participate in office pools. There are those who make informed predictions based on stats, analysis and recent history, and those with no knowledge of college hoops who simply take a wild punt or a guess. As is often the way with these things, it is the latter group who enjoy greater success.
March Madness kicks off with first four play-in games, which act as the first round of competition and will be played at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio until 2018. The winner of these games between the lowest four automatic picks and the lowest four selected picks (also called at-large teams) advance to be placed in the 64 team bracket. From there it’s straight knockout - 64 becomes 32, which in turn becomes the “Sweet 16”, then the regional finals or “Elite Eight” and the national semi-finals, also called the Final Four. All roads lead to the National Championship Game to crown the best college basketball team in the country, which takes place in early April.
In a special tournament ritual, the winning team cuts down the nets at the end of the Regional Championship Game and the National Championship Game, with each player cutting a single strand of the net, culminating with the head coach cutting the strand that connects the net to the hoop. The Champs earn the gold-plated Wooden Trophy, named after former coach John Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 Championships in 15 years. Champions receive a championship ring, while the other members of the Final Four receive rings, too. Upon the conclusion of the Final Four, the finest player is selected. Many winners of this award have gone on to be successful NBA players.
UCLA has won a record 11 titles and the University of Kentucky has eight. A college hoops favourite is rooting for the underdog, so one of the competition’s great fascinations is to see how far the so-called “Cinderella teams” - or rank outsiders - can go each year. The lowest ranked team in history to win the tournament was the eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats in 1965.
The NCAA tournament is a unique event, a treat to watch and a great American Tradition for those who love sport and those who don't alike.