The phenomenon of March Madness continues to grow. For this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, more people submitted brackets than ever before. Viewership of the first weekend's games was at an all-time high, with people utilizing television, computers, and their phones to catch glimpses of the games whenever they could.
In Philadelphia, of course, there is extra interest in the journey of La Salle as they get ready to play Wichita State this upcoming Thursday. For a city that takes such pride in The Big 5, to have one of our own advance to the Sweet 16 feels like having one of the family continue to play. The fact that La Salle has also been an underdog throughout and has Philadelphia players on its roster increases our rooting interest in this upcoming game.
Additionally, last weekend Philadelphia played host to the greatest underdog story in years—little-known Florida Gulf Coast University. In their first-ever tourney appearance, the Eagles upended mighty Georgetown and toppled San Diego State to advance to this weekend's regional finals in Dallas. They'll take on their in-state rivals, the nationally-ranked Florida Gators—adding another layer of intrigue to the team who has already provided one of the best March Madness storylines in years.
Why all the madness with March Madness? From a sport psychology viewpoint, there are several reasons. First, for sports fans, the Tournament is the ultimate reality show. It is impossible to script the drama that occurs in many games, and the flabbergasting upsets that can occur at any time. Even for seasoned sports fans, the unpredictability of the Tournament draws them in like a magnet.
The NCAA Tournament, though, is more than a sports event. It has become a huge social event. It gives even non-sport fans an opportunity to be part of the sports conversation with their friends and families. Parties are organized around watching NCAA games and even the most casual of fans can weigh in about how they are doing with their NCAA brackets. Oftentimes, it is very humbling when the casual sports fan who takes 10 minutes to fill out his/her bracket is doing better than the fan who analyzes for days who he/she thinks will win the Tournament.
Also, another compelling part of the NCAA Tournament is how the favorites fare against the underdogs. Every person, no matter what their personal sports experience has been, can relate to what it's like for David to be competing against Goliath. It takes tremendous courage to compete against an individual or team with a big reputation and national ranking. That is why fans begin to root for underdogs who have a chance to knock off a favorite. In this upcoming weekend's Sweet 16 games, it will be clear that the majority of fans in attendance will start rooting for the underdog to have a chance to beat a Duke or a Kansas.
So, hold on and get ready for the unpredictable twists and turns that will happen in the Sweet 16. Whether it's La Salle, Florida Gulf Coast or even one of the national powers, you know that something dramatic is bound to happen. It's the fact that this unpredictability can happen at any moment, on any shot or any possession that will keep many of us glued to following the Tournament this upcoming Thursday through Sunday to see who will advance to the Final Four.