Are you going to follow March Madness this year? I usually pass, but one of my hometown schools is apparently good this year so I’m definitely paying more attention. For context, San Diego sports have zero clout so SDSU being in the tournament is a big deal! I have always loved watching basketball games –– shoutout to Wellesley Blue for their NEWMACs game at MIT this Wednesday! –– but I haven’t ever been super drawn to March Madness. I decided this is the year I lean in and figure out once and for all why everyone cares so much.
March Madness is that special time of year for NCAA basketball fans. Founded in 1939, it is a single-elimination tournament for men’s and women’s D1 basketball teams around the country to compete for one championship. The final 16, known as the “Sweet Sixteen,” are the only ones who make it past the first week. Teams are chosen to participate in the tournament if they win their respective conferences, or if they receive an at-large bid based on their season record. They are then divided into regions (eastern, western, midwestern, southern), put into brackets and seeded.
Multiple games are happening around the country simultaneously as millions of fans try to follow their teams’ performances. Based on the brackets produced by the tournaments, fans can bet on the outcome of individual games as well as the whole tournament.
As NCAA tournaments go, March Madness generates a ton of revenue. It was reported by Business Insider that the NCAA generated $1 billion of revenue in the 2016 – 2017 school year, mostly from the men’s March Madness tournament. Despite the heavy cashflow, the NCAA is still reluctant to compensate student-athletes. The tides are beginning to change, as legislation that allows student-athletes in the NCAA to be paid for their names, images and general celebrity pushed the NCAA Board of Governors to vote to “modernize” the rules. The law will not go into effect until 2023, but generated conversation around the experience of student-athletes in this time of increased social media influence and celebrity for athletes of all levels.
Despite how much attention March Madness gets as a whole, the women’s championship does get nearly the same buzz as the men’s, and it has a lot to do with a differential in corporate sponsorships. Women’s teams rarely get as much media attention, funding and air time as men’s teams across all sports and the NCAA March Madness tournament is no exception. In 2015 when UConn’s women’s team was gearing up for their three-peat win over Notre Dame, the game received significantly less coverage in the news than the Men’s Championship, which had taken place prior to the game, which had commanded all of the recognition. There are many reasons why this might be the case, but a distinguishable one is that the same few teams tend to end up dominating the competition year after year. Unlike the men’s teams, the women’s teams tend to keep players for all four years instead of being drafted to the pros.