Every spring, the same scourge rises anew, threatening to dull March Madness‘s glorious shine. We speak not of incompetent refs, nor of inexplicable seedings. We’re not even talking about the fact that the opening orgy of games conflicts with what is commonly referred to as “job,” or “work.”
No, we gather here today to stand up to a threat that’s much more ominous — and widespread: the March Madness bracket.
You know the drill, the one repeated every March: Study the seedings; break down the teams and possible opponents; massage the crystal ball; then predict everything that’s going to happen over the next three weeks. That’s all fine and dandy — after all, nothing gets you primed for March Madness like poring over those match-ups.
But then the actual action starts and everything goes to hell. Game-winning shots and poignant moments — what make college hoops so addictive in the first place — cease to matter. Actual basketball and the inspirational achievements that go with it become of secondary importance to messy scribblings on a printed-out bracket (or, more likely, semi-thoughtless clicks in a digital version).
Of course, this is a familiar predicament for NFL fans of a certain mindset. I can’t count the number of Sundays I’ve wanted to grab someone — often a dear friend I’d never typically seek conflict with — by the collar and scream: “I don’t care that you ‘own’ the Packers defense! That catch by Calvin Johnson was delivered from the heavens, dammit! Your eyes are open but you sure don’t see, man!”
Fantasy football and March Madness brackets dominated the sports landscape long before Instagram was even a twinkle in Kevin Systrom’s eye. But they’re borne of a problem that has become increasingly relevant in the social media age: The thing itself is no longer the Thing; our reaction to the thing has become the Thing.
Just like the mind-blowing nature hike can only be as good as the filter we choose to share it with, the incredible March Madness buzzer-beater we know is coming can only be as important as its impact on our bracket. And that’s messed up.
Let’s face it: You’re not going to kick that Instagram habit anytime soon (and we won’t even mention Twitter). But this month, we’re faced with an opportunity to seize back our collective reality. We have an opportunity to, as the ever-sage Garth Algar once told Wayne, live in the now.
Skipping your March Madness bracket altogether is a big ask, I know. But if quitting cold turkey isn’t an option, please consider at least overall disengagement from your bracket picks. In fact, here’s an idea: Make your picks, put them away in a real or metaphorical drawer, then don’t look again until the actual tournament ends.
You’ll love your newfound lucidity. The people around you will love your Zen-like, total enjoyment of the game in front of you. March Madness will become that much madder, in the best way possible. The pull of the herd is tough to resist, but I have full confidence you can fight that sort of groupthink.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bracket to fill out. I see the path to higher basketball consciousness, but for now, I’m still stuck dreaming.