Tuesday, March 25, 2008

a method to the madness

As a kid growing up in Syracuse, NY, University sports were everything. Our family had season tickets to basketball and football, and we were even known to cheer for the lacrosse team, despite the fact that we all sucked at the sport.

But something happened on the way to adulthood. My beloved Tufts University Jumbos took the spirit and tradition of raging championship-at-all-costs mentality away and replaced it with a joyful love of collegiate a cappella music and a respect for literature. The shame. The horror. I know.

Back then, the idea of filling out a bracket was a no-brainer. Through high school I was a king of useless data about how a Big East team would do against an ACC squad and had a distinct logic as to why certain teams couldn't be beat and knew the assists per game of the starting point guard from each Cinderella squad psyched to be slotted in "the Dance" as a 15 seed.

Fast forward to last week. At the ad agency where I work, one of the creatives sent around an email (which wound up in my junk mail folder) the day before brackets were due and for $5, I agreed to fill one out and be part of the office pool. Now, I know it's been a crazy tourney for many people, but never have I spent such little time filling out a bracket, never have I entered a pool with such little information about the teams at play (Davidson?!?!? seriously???), and, most importantly, never had I had so little invested in the outcome. Which begs the question: why do it? Why play? Why waste the $5 that could have gone toward an afternoon's triple tall americano from Vivace?

Here's why. It's quite beautiful really. March Madness and the bracketology that ensues is one of the last bastions of true camaraderie. People who don't know each other are talking about picks, predictions, shared disappointments, and fantastic finishes. We find ourselves purposely and overtly eavesdropping on conversations held in lines at banks, bus stops, and grocery stores. We want to be a part of the discussion. There's a primitive social aspect to March Madness. It has equal impact both nationally and locally. So I played to be a part of the conversation. I threw my money down the drain (G'town, Duke, UConn, Clemson) and did it with a smile on my face knowing that I wasn't putting money down to win, I was putting money down to participate.

And that's the experiential ingredient missing from much of life's newer events. The idea that we, as citizens, crave being active participants in something, in anything. We need to be a part of something. It's been argued before that as our world has become more digitized, so too have we seen an increase in the desire and need to collect real experiences. The NCAA tournament is a great example of yes, a great shared, collective participatory event. But also, of a social need that transcends the event itself. A reminder that even if you don't know the difference between a Cardinal from Louisville (bird) or Stanford (color), you can still be a part of something special, still be a part of the Madness.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)