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Posted: March 21, 2009 4:40 p.m.

There's nothing wrong with a little madness

Ah, it’s finally here. March Madness. If you are a true basketball purest, this is what you’ve been waiting for all season long. It’s young people with their whole lives in front of them pouring their hearts out, doing something they love, not for money, but for love of the game. As CBS says of our beloved Master’s, the NCAA tournament is "A tradition unlike any other."

An ESPN Sports Center poll late last week asked sports fans what they looked forward to most this time of year. The choices and results of 130, 252 voters say it all:

NCAA Tournament 55%

MLB Opening Day 19%

NBA Playoffs 12%

NFL Draft 14%

It’s clear to see that the excitement of March Madness is unparalleled this time of year.

Obviously crazed college students, who followed their teams all year long, now get to see them play with the big boys. Alums in the business world continuously check scores on their Blackberries or laptops and leave work early to get to a TV. And sports fans in general who paid little attention during the regular season, now hang on every score and upset in their bracket. What’s all the hubbub? Why does March Madness make us crazy and stir up so much emotion?

It’s the whole thing. It’s a lot of things. It’s the thrill of the unexpected. It’s bragging rights for the next year. It’s emotions, passion, heart, commitment and hard-work being poured out on the court by young people who get a chance to fulfill their dreams in front of a sports nation. It’s the hope of the improbable win and the devastation of the unexpected loss. It’s the zenith of a college career and the chance for a high school star to become a sports icon we all admire from afar. It’s the chance for a college star to elevate himself into a lottery pick because he peaked at the right time. It’s even the hope that "our" bracket is better and we’ll turn our $5 into $50 that makes us tune in and watch. As Dicky V says, "It’s March Madness Baby," and it’s exciting.

It’s a college sports playoff system that is fair and just, giving all deserving teams at least a chance. Although there may have been some teams that had their bubbles burst, refreshingly unlike the BCS, they weren’t left out of the tournament if they were undefeated or ranked in the top 25. There is room for everyone who had a great year.

The usual big names like North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kansas, and UConn get their shot each year, but the smaller names like Marquette and Gonzaga get theirs too. And in basketball with only five players on the court, anything can truly happen on a given night, as George Mason showed the sports world in 2006, when the small Colonial League school upset No. 1 UConn to advance to the Final Four. As college basketball editor for PA SportsTicker, Matt Santillo, wrote in an online story in January, "Even though George Mason’s captivating run ended with a resounding loss to the eventual champion [Florida] Gators, the Patriots gave frenetic fans and prove-it-to-me prognosticators alike the notion that smaller schools can compete with anyone in the nation…"

It’s David vs. Goliath in the book of Samuel, Jimmy and the Hickory Huskers vs. South Bend Central, or Texas Western vs. Kentucky in 1966. Images of greatness and unparalleled upsets are created and relived by CBS on highlight reels over and over. It’s "The Shot" by Duke’s Christian Laettner to beat Kentucky in the 1992 regionals. It’s Michigan’s Chris Webber and the infamous time out that Michigan didn’t have in the 1993 Finals loss to UNC. It’s Jimmy V’s No.8 seed North Carolina State knocking off top-ranked Houston for the NCAA Championship in 1983. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. So bracketologists, it’s time to dance.

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