Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2006-03-16

March Madness: A Guest Entry

Alert readers may have noticed that we don't really cover sports here at PGTL. This is a major gap in our coverage of all things Pop, so to start filling in the gaps, we bring you this excellent guest entry by my lifelong friend and favorite sports fan, Eliav Decter. Let him take you to NCAA school.

Today marks the start of March Madness (officially the NCAA Tournament), the annual sporting ritual during which television ratings go up, office productivity goes down, and basketball fans everywhere go crazy. For the next couple of weeks, roundball addicts across the country will be checking and rechecking their brackets, as the field of 65 teams is gradually narrowed to the “Sweet 16” then the “Elite Eight” and, of course, the “Final Four.” On April 3, the men’s national collegiate basketball champion will be crowned in Indianapolis, while the women’s tournament will conclude the following day in Boston.

But it wasn’t always this way. The NCAA tournament was launched in 1939 with just an eight-team field, and only 5,500 fans watched Oregon defeat Ohio State in the final. The tournament gradually expanded, but until the 1950s was overshadowed by a more prestigious rival, the NIT (National Invitational Tournament), with some teams even competing in both events.

Most hoops historians trace the rise of March Madness as we know it to the 1979 tournament, when budding superstars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird led their teams to the championship game, capturing fans’ imaginations, as well as the highest TV ratings in NCAA history. Since that game, the tournament has become so popular that, by 1999, CBS was willing to pay $6 billion for the broadcast rights to all of the tournament games through 2014.

So why has a simple basketball tournament become such a national obsession? There are several explanations: First, the tournament has a wide geographic reach with schools representing almost every region of the country, including those without professional sports teams. Second, colleges have passionate, loyal fan bases which include students, parents, alumni, and nearby residents. Third, many fans prefer the relative purity of the college game and the team-first style of play to the NBA’s emphasis on individual achievement. Fourth, there’s just so much basketball to watch, with games starting around noon and running well into the night.

But for many fans, the real appeal of March Madness is the potential for upsets: Almost every year, at least one unheralded squad knocks off a basketball powerhouse and becomes the latest in a long line of “Cinderella teams” (a term which is likely used more in March than over the other 11 months combined). A cynic might also point to the ubiquitous gambling associated with March Madness, as fans across the country enter tournament pools, but I don’t have time to argue – there’s basketball to watch!

Additional Reading:

Last Dance by John Feinstein
The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein
March Madness by the NCAA
Encyclopedia of College Basketball by Mike Douchant

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5 Comments:

  • At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A great overview! Thanks, guest blogger!

     
  • At 3:22 PM, Blogger Liz B said…

    Thanks, Eliav. I know so little about this. I usually pick teams based on whether I went to the school (Monmouth, Villanova, Rutgers) or whether its a school I'ld like to attend or if it's in a city I'd like to visit.

     
  • At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nicely done!

    Maybe something on NASCAR could be next? Very Pop Culture and yet who really understands its appeal?

     
  • At 1:39 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    NASCAR is a great idea, Anonymous. I know just who to ask about it, too -- my sister's housemate is a rabid NASCAR fan. We're open to more sports post ideas, too, so keep 'em coming!

     
  • At 8:38 PM, Blogger melissa said…

    Sadly, the sport I love the most--tennis--is relatively pop culture-less. But I think a post on figure skating might be in the making soon . . . .

     

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