Are you a sports fan? Whether you enjoy football, baseball, soccer, or one of the many other sports around the world, there are many chances each week to sit back and enjoy a game or two on television.
If you're a fan of basketball, in particular, there's a time of year that's extra special. It's that time when everywhere you turn, sports fanatics are talking about bubble teams, brackets, and buzzer beaters. What are we talking about? March Madness, of course!
March Madness refers to that time of year (usually mid-March through the beginning of April) when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men's and women's college basketball tournaments are held.
Why is it madness? That term somehow captures the excitement that swirls around the sports world as tournament time approaches. In the weeks leading up to the "Big Dance," as it is called, hundreds of college basketball teams from all over the United States fight to earn a spot in the tournament.
The NCAA college basketball tournament is a single-elimination tournament that features 68 teams to survive three weekends of games to be crowned the national champions. The field used to be 64 teams, but the NCAA has recently added four more teams that play "play in" games to earn a spot in the final field of 64.
Only 16 teams (the "Sweet Sixteen") make it past the first weekend. The second weekend narrows the field first to the "Elite Eight" and then the "Final Four. The final weekend focuses on the four semifinalists. The two semifinal victors move on to play in the national championship game.
Ohio State University coach Harold Olsen is usually credited with developing the idea for the tournament in 1939 with the help of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
The 68 teams in the tournament include 32 teams that receive automatic bids for winning their respective conferences. The remaining 36 teams are given at-large bids by the NCAA selection committee based upon their performance during the season.
Once the field is set, the teams are divided into four regions (usually spread geographically through the eastern, western, midwestern, and southern U.S.) and placed into a bracket that lays out the path a team must take to reach the finals. Each team is seeded or ranked within its region, from 1 to 16.
Higher-seeded teams generally play lower-seeded teams in the beginning. For example, in the first round, each team seeded #1 plays the team seeded #16. This trend continues until upsets begin to occur, at which time brackets can become hard to predict as unexpectedly-good teams (often called "Cinderella" teams) make a run in the tournament.
At tournament time each year, millions of people fill out their own brackets, attempting to predict the winners of all the games. There are usually enough upsets, however, that it's nearly impossible to predict a perfect bracket. In fact, your chances of correctly guessing the winner of every game is less than 1 in 9.2 quintillion (or more precisely, 9,223,372,036,854,775,808)!
As multiple games are played simultaneously at neutral sites all over the country, millions of sports fans follow the games on television over the course of the three-week tournament. To date, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) holds the record for the most national titles with 11.