Is March Madness better than the Winter Olympics? I think so.
Yeah, the Olympics are great for nationalism, at least sometimes. Wherever you are from, It can be fun to watch your country do well. And there are certainly many opportunities to do that, from hockey and ice skating to luge and curling (for my Canadian readers, I guess). I am an avid hockey fan, and I really enjoy watching all of the great national hockey powers square off.
But as much as I enjoy watching Team USA bow out in the final four every year, I can’t help but think that March Madness simply does sports better.
Yeah, I know, the big programs always win the NCAA National Championship. But so many programs come out of nowhere, so many small (and obscure) school players steal the national stage, and so many giants also lose. Look at Dayton this year. Their up-and-coming program took down Ohio State and Syracuse in the same tournament. How can you beat that? George Mason, 2005-2006. Butler, 2009-2010. Florida Gulf Coast (“Dunk City”), 2012-2013. These teams captivated the entire nation and humbled a few people in the process.
When you watch the Olympics, you watch the best in the world. It’d be silly to argue against the fruits of that. When you watch March Madness, though, you witness something that I find a lot more interesting–a bunch of kids. Kids, in fact, that are mostly younger than me. Yes, they are talented. Most of them, though, will not go on to play in the NBA. Unlike the NBA (though I’m pretty skeptical of the top-tier college programs), college players aren’t getting paid, and unlike the Winter Olympics, they aren’t fighting for their country. They’re fighting for their schools and for their teams’ legacies. There’s some so absolutely classic about that.
Also, can we talk about how boring the Olympics were this year? Very few upsets, lots of the same trite commentary on how Sochi is a bad place (important, yes, but every day?), and an example of people stretching to politicize athletics and the people who participate in sports. Sure, there’s the Miracle on Ice, but for every one of those, there are about a dozen boring shutouts. Thinking that the Olympics were going to expose or ignite a Russia-vs.-World rivalry, while interesting, was reductive at best.
Of course, on a lighter note, there’s also the culture that makes the NCAA tourney amazing. Bracketology, bets made with friends at various levels of sobriety, pubs lit up like Christmas trees with three completely different games on giant televisions, fans of their teams donning t-shirts and jerseys. It’s ingrained in our culture, unmatched by almost any other sport. And I love it.
So, enjoy yourselves and enjoy the madness. I hope you (and your brackets) are doing well.