By Kaleigh Rogers
Every year around this time, a certain strain of spring fever sets in: March Madness. From coast to coast across the United States, it seems everybody has a stake in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s division one basketball championship — and it’s spread to Canada, too.
The annual event is the preeminent competition for college basketball in the United States and it seems everyone—from die-hard sports fanatics to those who can’t tell Vandy from Vancouver—starts placing their bets, entering pools and filling out brackets to predict who will win the tournament.
“When you have the president of the United States filling out a bracket, I think that really tells you the scope that we’re talking about,” said Greg Sansone, vice-president operations for The Score television network.
“It’s actually hard to believe that any collegiate or university sport can make it to the mainstream like it is has in the United States, especially as it relates to March Madness.”
While The Score doesn’t air current NCAA championship games, the network airs memorable March Madness games from the past with notable players including Michael Jordan.
Every year, a few Canadian-born players in the tournament are highlighted by Canadian media, but at the end of the day, this is an American competition and a college one at that. So, why the hype north of the border?
“It’s the bracket. It’s being able to have a personal investment in what you’re watching,” Sansone explained.
“Most people couldn’t tell you Creighton from Alabama and their basketball teams over the course of the regular season. But if they have bracket in front of them, they’re going to circle one of those teams and all of a sudden have a vested interest in it. That’s what makes all the difference in the world.”
While exact figures for the number of Canadians tuning in to the championship are difficult to pin down, the number of hours devoted to coverage of the tournament speaks to its popularity. Full commentary and coverage of the championship can be found on The Score, TSN, and sports segments on CTV and CBC newscasts.
Even those involved with university athletics find themselves intrigued by the tournament south of the border.
“I would consider it one of the best events in sports, period,” said Brad Campbell, coach of the men’s basketball team at Western University.
“Basketball is an exciting sport at the collegiate level where basically every game in the tournament, if you lose, you go home. I think that adds a lot of excitement, intensity and immediacy to the games.”
He also noted the nature of the tournament lends itself to more attention as many future professional basketball players get their start—even are scouted—in this championship. But basketball buffs aren’t the only ones caught up in the madness. Campbell said this is because of the nature of the tournament.
“The universal appeal is the underdog. Every year you can see there are always underdog victories. … Non-basketball people can relate to that and it just makes for a very exciting atmosphere.”
But despite the popularity of March Madness, for some, the real excitement remains above the 49th parallel—future NBA-ers or no.
“I find the storylines north of the border extremely exciting and that’s where I invest my time and interest. There’s no shortage of great stories to tell,” said Marg McGregor, CEO of Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
“Canadians are kind of self-deprecating and there’s a misconception that if it’s south of the border it must be better, which I don’t subscribe to at all.”