Americans have March.
In a day and age where images of Ron Artest's run into the stands and the ongoing investigation of steroids pollute the headlines each passing night in sports, is there any spectacle more true to the American way than college basketball's 65-team tournament?
The Tournament is the truest form of opportunity for every respective school that gets invited to the great waltz. Everyone is even and that includes the best teams, whom don't get any free passes to the next round. Instead, they play it out, having to make it on their own. They don't "re-seed" in the Big Dance and they don't give out a "bye." What you did in the regular season is nothing more than a footnote.
Unlike other set-ups, the NCAA Tournament gives everyone a chance. No one can be passed up or "ducked" in March. While colleges across the country might not want to bring in a mid-major during the regular season, they are going to have to play them in the dance whether they like it or not.
And the NCAA Tournament plays no favorite. There is no home court advantage or penalty – just two teams battling it out – the way it should be and the way sport was intended.
Players play for the name across the jersey and not for the name across their back. Unlike the ever-lasting careers of prominent professional figures, college kids don't have the chance to choose when to hang it up. The NCAA only grants them four years.
Why do I love the big dance?
Yeah, it's fun to play the office pools and get to know that ignorant computer geek whose got his own separate RPI index, and sure, it's fun to feel young again for two straight weeks excusing the arthritis pill and back pain for a late night appearance past 10 pm, but what separates the Big Dance from every other time of year?
No matter your age, religion, political affiliation or cultural background, everyone can relate to the hardships and trials experienced by the athletes we'll support this spring. The majority of Americans can understand the sympathy without the assistance of Bob Costas' ten minute interlude. Why?
In the words of Rod Tidwell, "I feel ya."
There is heartbreak. There is sorrow. There are underdogs that become champions and stars that shine for a final time. It's the true American tale that proves that sportsmanship in our country isn't dead. Players cry. Coaches hug. Handshakes are exchanged. It's the basketball Rupp, Phog and Naismith envisioned when they first started the greatest game on court.
And it gets replayed every March in our own version of Madness.
The early migration of talent to the NBA was supposed to hurt the college game. Critics argued, the lack of star-power would hurt the game's chances of ever becoming elite and the level of basketball would deteriorate. 20 years of draft early entries and its plain to see;
They were wrong.
Survived and alive, college basketball is flying these days, illustrating every week what is good and pure about sport in a time where hard work has been replaced by the easy shortcut.
Still standing and left alone is March Madness: the new American passion.