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What Makes March Madness So Popular?

March Madness 2022 is right around the corner -- here's why it's a must watch for every basketball fan out there
March Madness 2021 tip-off

March Madness 2021 tip-off

March Madness is one of the most anticipated events in all American sports as the NCAA crowns its Division I men’s basketball champions. But what exactly is March Madness, and what has made the tournament so popular?

March Madness explained

March Madness is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, which comprises 68 teams involved in a single-elimination knockout format. The tournament takes place every March – hence the name March Madness – with the 2022 edition beginning on March 14 and concluding with the Championship game on April 4.

There are two ways teams earn a bid to the tourney; the 32 Division I Conference postseason champions all receive automatic entries, while the other 36 are decided by a selection committee, based on which teams have the pedigree and have earned the right to compete in the tournament.

After the field is finalized, teams are given a seeding and placed in one of four regions. Each team is given a seeding between 1 and 68 – the No.1 seed being the team with the best combined regular and postseason record. The bottom four seeded teams (those placed 64- 68) then compete in a First Four knockout tournament, with the winner taking the 64th place in March Madness.

There are several reasons why March Madness is such a popular tournament among basketball fans in the United States and around the world.

Format

The single-elimination knockout format is one of the key contributors to giving March Madness its name. The stakes are high from the very start, and there is no margin for error. 

This format lends itself to ‘Cinderella’ stories where a smaller team rides a wave of momentum to produce upset wins over more-fancied opponents. Adversely, a big team who is tipped to challenge for the championship could have one bad game, and it will all be over. There are no second chances or a series by which they can turn around their fortunes.

Compare March Madness to the NBA playoffs, where teams compete in best-of-seven series, and the level of intensity is far greater in the NCAA tournament.

Tournament size

With 68 teams competing, March Madness is the biggest tournament by contestant numbers in all American sports -- more than all the NBA (30) and NFL (32) teams combined.

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Given the number of competing teams and the fact they are placed in four different regions, it spreads out the talent and leads to plenty of exciting matchups. Additionally, the schedule is frantic. Take, for instance, the second and third rounds of the tournament, where 48 games are played over just four days. That simply doesn’t happen in any other tournament in any other sport around the world.

Watch heroes get made

March Madness has given a platform to countless players who have progressed to the NBA and become all-time greats. The likes of David Robinson, Anthony Davis, Grant Hill, Isiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Bill Russell all starred in the tournament before having exceptional NBA careers.

Who will be the next NBA-bound players to sparkle at March Madness? Will top prospects like Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith lead their colleges to glory before making the expected transition to the professional game? You can check here who are the players and teams leading the odds to win March Madness.

Still, it’s not just the celebrated college stars who can make themselves heroes during March Madness. The tournament’s history is filled with unsung players who landed an improbable game-winning shot and young men who played the games of their lives to lead their teams to astonishing, at times unexpected, victories. 

Who of this year's participants is next to do it is anyone’s guess, and that's part of the magic of March Madness.

Timing

March Madness would be a major spectacle regardless, but its popularity is no doubt boosted by the scheduling of the tournament.

The fact it takes place when there’s a break between all major professional sports leagues – NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL – helps fill the void in many sports fans’ lives while ensuring basketball fans can focus solely on the NCAA tournament without any potential distractions from other leagues and sports.

Fans

College sports fans are known to be among the most passionate and dedicated supporters in all sports, so when March Madness comes round, they are completely in their element.

Whether it’s attending games or arranging watch parties at home, this tournament has proven to be a popular way of bringing friends and family together to cheer on their college as a group. The fact it's condensed into such a short space of time played in a pure knockout format and takes place during a break in other sports only intensifies the level of support.

The support doesn’t even necessarily have to start and end with one team. Filling out pre-tournament brackets keeps people emotionally invested in March Madness even if their team is eliminated.

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