Monday, 24 March 2014

March Madness in the USA

        March Madness has started!
The second week in March, the championship basketball games among teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began. A frenzy unlike anything among U.S. sports fans except perhaps football's Super Bowl takes over.  Sports bars are filled with fans; house parties are held all over the country.
This is college (university) basketball. The NCAA presently has 1066 schools actively participating in competition. The schools have both men's and women's teams. Depending on the size of the school, they fall into one of three divisions.
To get to play in the national championship tournament, a team can qualify by winning its regional tournament. Other teams may be selected to compete by a Selection Committee.
The true tournament for Division I, the best-known, began this year on March 20. Between March 20 and March 22, half of the 64 teams (both men's and women's) were eliminated. In Round 2, the remaining 32 teams are cut in half again, leaving the "Sweet 16" to move on in the competition.         After a 4-day break, the battle resumes until the Sweet 16 are cut down to the "Final Four."
The mayhem of March will have ended. Many college teams will hang up their uniforms and lick their wounds. But four men's and four women's teams will survive and the high drama of the final games of the championship will unfold in April.
Now I admit I don't follow basketball at any level. But college ball is a passion for many of my countrymen (and women). I have a cousin who supports every University of Louisville (Kentucky) team. Louisville's teams are called the Cardinals, and in her life, the Cardinals Rule--but when it comes to basketball, loyalty and interest transform into passion. Louisville pretty much always sends its teams to March Madness; last year, the men took their tournament by storm, and the women made it to the final game, though they lost to University of Connecticut.  My cousin's life is on hold for as long as a Cardinal flies across the basketball courts of the NCAA.

Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith (L) drives to the hoop past Wichita State Shockers guard Ron Baker during the second half of their NCAA men's Final Four basketball game in Atlanta, Georgia April 6, 2013.
 (Reuters Photo/Chris Keane)

         So if you should travel to the U.S. between March 20 and April 8--even if only by satellite dish or cable--look in on a sports channel. You'll likely find an authentic cultural celebration: team supporters of college basketball teams, rooting on their favorites. The final games generate huge public parties. The Final Four games for the women will be in Nashville, Tennessee, a center for country music; Nashville will have races and kids' events--and of course, country music performances. The Final Four games for the men will be near Dallas, Texas, complete with a 3 day music festival featuring both country stars like Tim McGraw and rock favorites like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
         Until then, as the March Madness frenzy plays out, college players will defy gravity to sink baskets. Just watch them fly!
          (More technical information about how the tournament works is at the web site  if you want to additional information!)