Friday, June 22, 2018
Sports

NCAA brackets just a form of fandom

Welcome to the most unproductive work week of the year.

For the first three days, you pour over your NCAA Tournament bracket, pretending you know why Bucknell has a chance to upset Butler.

Then you spend the next two days watching games when you should be typing up that report or swapping out brake pads or doing whatever it is you're supposed to be doing when the boss is around.

More than 3 million U.S. workers will spend at least an hour watching NCAA Tournament games during business hours. One survey said that games on Thursday and Friday this week will cost companies about $134 million in lost productivity.

March Madness — actually, following your bracket — has become such a big deal that offices don't even fight it anymore.

This whole thing has even led to the creation of its own language, with words such as "bracketologist" and phrases such as "bubble teams'' and "last four in.'' It's so mainstream that the University of Cincinnati has a class in "Bracketology."

"We have 50 graduate students in the class,'' said professor Paul Bessire. "We break them up into selection committees, and everybody puts together a bracket.''

Filling out an NCAA bracket and following the tournament with sheet in hand is probably the most popular way fans interact with college and pro sports so they can feel like they're a part of sports in a way that goes far beyond simply cheering for their favorite teams.

Here's a look at how most fans get personally involved in sports:

Filling out a bracket

What makes filling out an NCAA bracket so popular is you need no real skill to do it. Check it out: The bracket comes with hints. Each team has a little number next to it; the lower the number, the better the team, theoretically. Just pick all the low-numbered teams and you shouldn't be embarrassed by your picks.

Beyond that, it's perfectly acceptable to pick the school you attended or a college near your hometown, regardless of how absurd such an upset might be if that team is the underdog. There's little chance 16th-seeded Southern is going to knock off No. 1 Gonzaga on Thursday night, but if you went to Southern or grew up in Louisiana, not only can you pick the Jaguars without scorn or ridicule, you are pretty much obligated to do so.

You're allowed to pick against a team simply because you hate them. Kentucky fans won't pick Louisville. Missouri fans wouldn't stomach picking Kansas. And, heck, everyone hates Duke.

Some people take certain teams because of their mascot. Maybe you pick a team because your girlfriend went there. Maybe you pick against a team because your ex-boyfriend went there.

In the end, it's mostly luck anyway.

Fantasy sports

Football is the most popular fantasy-team sport. You pick real players for your team and get points for it based on those players' actual statistical performances in games. Fantasy football is wildly popular, with an estimated 35 million Americans playing.

Sure, it adds spice to boring, meaningless games, and there is no question fantasy football has helped make the NFL the most popular sport in this country. But isn't something inherently wrong with hoping a player does well in a virtual world even if that player does well against your favorite team in the real world?

Autographs

I've never understood the appeal of autographs. Just like card collecting, some autographs are worth money. I get that. But in general, what's the point? To prove you met someone famous? And what kind of friends do you have that they would require written proof you met Coco Crisp? Your word isn't good enough? Is it really so hard to believe you could run into Daren Puppa at Publix?

It used to be you got the autograph because you rarely would carry a camera around with you. Now pretty much everyone carries a camera with them thanks to their smart phones. Maybe autographs will be replaced by photos with your favorite stars. Photos are better anyway.

The extremes

The most serious participation: Gambling.

The most fun participation: Tailgating.

The most dangerous participation: Gambling, potentially. And tailgating, potentially. And, oh, catching foul balls … without a glove.

Final thought

The most basic form of fan participation?

It's one in which you are not required to draft players and follow their every move on Sunday. It's one in which you don't have to refer to a sheet of paper to determine your allegiance. It's one that means your team really does lose even if loses by fewer than six points, or whatever the point spread is.

What is this form of participation called? Being a fan.

You might find it to be most rewarding participation there is.

Well, unless you pick the entire Final Four correctly. That's way cool.

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