The Madness is upon us. 65 (now 64) teams will spend the next three weeks scratching and clawing their way toward a heavily modified Ford Field in Detroit for the 2009 edition of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final Four.
I generally think that today should be a national holiday. Office productivity will be at an annual low. Brackets will be on nearly every desk. Water cooler conversation will for a brief period be diverted from American Idol. Guys will slip away for slightly extended lunches. Women who pick their brackets based on uniform colors will lead the pools by nightfall.
It's a colossus of television, athletics and marketing. CBS does a masterful job bringing it all to us, and despite their ability to screw nearly everything else up, the NCAA gets this one perfect. First they get us enthralled in the week prior to the games by encouraging prognostications about who will just barely make it and who will be relegated to the NIT.
Then they give us an orgy of conference championships that culminates in the 6 pm EDT Selection Sunday show featuring exultant invitees and petulant also-rans. That's followed by the pundits going over every detail of every team that made it and every shortcoming of those that didn't. On Tuesday they feed us a game between the two worst teams in the brackets, allowing us just a taste of action that starts us salivating for the frenzy that will begin at noon today.
It's a monstrous pageant, almost excessive, but still so compelling that every year, regardless of whether my teams are in, I find a place to watch at 12 and tune in as often as I can over the next few weeks.
At its beginning though, the NCAA tournament was a small thing. Nearly unheard of really, even in Philadelphia, the basketball-crazed town that hosted the first March madness 70 years ago. Mark Kram had a great article in the Daily News yesterday that shows just how humble the beginnings of this thing really were.
Enjoy the spectacle.
And GO CATS GO!