The annual NCAA College Basketball
Championship tournament - or "March Madness," as it know by fans -
began Thursday afternoon, sports fans all glued to TVs to see which
school will eventually be crowned NCAA champion.
The NCAA tournament is a yearly highlight for America basketball enthusiasts who get to see 67 dramatic basketball games all packed into a two and a half weeks period, thus the "Madness" of the situation.
It is one of the only times in the American national attention span when the millionaire professionals in the NBA arguably take a back seat to unpaid college athletes.
The single round elimination tournament is filled with inspiring wins and heartbreaking losses, as the 64 invited teams are slowly narrowed down to the national champion.
The Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four - each round in the tournament has its own catchy nickname as the competitors are progressively knocked out and sent packing, until only the best team remains.
One common pastime of the NCAA tournament is trying to guess who will win each game, and many people fill out their own tournament bracket beforehand to see how accurate their predictions turn out to be true. Sometimes, fans compete with their friends and try to win a little money, the person with the most correct bracket winning a prize.
The wild nature of the tournament and the sheer amount of participating schools creates an "anything can happen" atmosphere that catches America by, well, madness. Fans pack bars and fight for a good spot near the TV, while at the universities themselves students gather at campus parties to all cheer on their team together.
Tickets to watch March Madness games in person often cost more than 250 U.S. dollars for a single Final Four match.
It might seem strange that university students would get so much attention, but for many fans that is exactly the point of March Madness.
The student athletes don't receive salaries for their hours of hard work training, or an expensive advertising contract with Nike if they are the team star. Rather, NCAA athletes are just 20- something years old kids playing the game how it was intended, a kind of authenticity some fans feel is now lacking in professional leagues.
In Chicago, workers rushed to lock their office doors and make their way not back home, but to the nearest downtown bar with a big screen. Dan Park told Xinhua he had taken the day off entirely to watch March Madness basketball games, saying he had requested off weeks ago in preparation.
"Forget Christmas, this is my favorite part of the year," Park said laughing.
"March Madness is so much fun because anyone can win, and everyone is trying to guess out of all the teams just who that winner will be," Park said.
The 64 teams are split into 4 divisions, the 16 teams in each division given a ranking of 1 to 16, with 1 being the best. The first rounds are set up in a way that should favor the better team, meaning that the number 1 team will play the number 16 team, the number 2 team will play the number 15 team, and so on.
But the "better" team does not win every time, and one of the characteristics of March Madness is that it is filled with upset victories - and often to the fans' delight.
"Everyone loves to root for the underdog," said Chicago fan Michelle Woods.
"It makes everything more fun. Of course you cheer for your own team first, but if they don' t make it you want a team to win that has really worked hard and overcome the odds," she continued
The ultimate NCAA champion will not be known until the final matchup April 2, but until then basketball games will run first daily and then on weekends, as the teams gradually get narrowed down.
Even President Barack Obama seems to be excited for the "Madness," the President sharing his own Final Four picks with sports network ESPN and attending one of the prequel games Tuesday night.
President Obama predicts the university teams of Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio State and North Carolina will make it all the way to the NCAA semifinals in New Orleans.
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