Tom’s Two Cents: It is March Madness and I have no bracket

The first couple days after spring break are always the worst. I’m still in a bit of a spring break hangover. After spending some time in the Caribbean, listening to my mom rave about American Idol contestant David Archuleta and not working on my senior essay, I’m not quite ready to get back into the full swing of things.

Hence, no witty Q&A’s or inspirational stories of injured athletes this week.

However, an interesting thing happened to me over spring break. For the first time, I stayed at home for the first week of break and then traveled during the second. This meant that I had spotty Internet access and no way filling out a March Madness bracket.

For sports fans across the nation, the end of March brings the most cherished college athletics tradition: the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, or, in colloquial terms, March Madness. And it isn’t simply a matter of rooting for your university or home team. The hype starts long before the tournament begins, with people guessing and analyzing which bubble team has the chance to make it to the tournament.

On Selection Sunday, the field is set. Now, this is where the fun begins. March Madness is nearly synonymous with the word “bracket.” In the few days between Selection Sunday and the opening tip, analysts and fans break down every single match-up and hope to predict the eventual national champion. Even the most casual observer can’t help getting caught up in this phenomenon.

Estimates show a cost of $1.7 billion in lost productivity in the workplace during the tournament. True, these numbers are probably an exaggeration, but the “bracket” has pervaded nearly every aspect of our culture from MTV to Facebook.

And the most damning part about this is how addictive filling out a bracket can be. There’s that exhilarating rush when you have proof that you called No. 13 Siena upsetting No. 4 Vanderbilt, tempered only by the agony of realizing that No. 10 Davidson has just busted your bracket (especially when money is on the line).

This year was different, though.

March Madness was beginning and I had no way of filling out a bracket. Normally, I’d be surfing through ESPN.com and CBS Sports to get as much analysis as I could, like any huge fantasy sports nut would. Without my trusty laptop and a reliable Internet source, I was in a slight panic. A large part of me wanted to race down to the hotel lobby and plunk down $1/minute to get my bracket filled out. However, I couldn’t quite justify putting down that much money for a bracket.

A bracket. It’s just a graphic with branching lines. That’s all it is.

When the tournament began last Thursday, I had this strange feeling course through me. I could watch San Diego topple UConn and not feel slightly perturbed. I could revel in the victory of the underdogs.

And then I figured out what I was experiencing.

It was freedom.

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