March Madness: one champion, but many winners

It’s the start of one of the most beloved traditions in the American sports calendar: March Madness. We’re a little bit past the midpoint of the first day. There have already been some upsets. Many people already probably have a team (or two) who they thought would go deep into the tournament already headed home.

For me, one of the reasons why I appreciate the tournament is that I feel like there is always more than one winner. Yes, there’s only one champion. But lots of teams can come away from March Madness feeling like winners. Not every school is Kansas, or Duke, or Kentucky who expects to be in the tournament every year. For many schools, just getting into the dance i already a big win. Kennesaw State University is in the tournament for the first time in program history.

I think of Princeton’s win today over Arizona. A 15 seed over a 2 seed. That’s Princeton’s first tournament win in 25 years. Regardless of what happens in their next game, they’re playing with house money.

Earlier today, Furman who’s a 13 seed upset Virginia. This is Furman’s first appearance in the tournament since 1980. And there will be more upsets to follow. Obviously every team is always going to win their next game, but for the teams who pull off an upset (and if history is an indicator, there are usually about nine upsets in the first round alone), they’re already winners.

I think of the teams who make it to the final four. Even if you’re a one seed and only make it to the final four, you’ve accomplished something special.

I feel like we tend to judge a lot of sports based on championships. We’re like Ricky Bobby in Talledgea Nights and think “if you’re not first, you’re last.” Perhaps it’s because the tournament is so long, but in March Madness, more so than other team sports, I feel like we can appreciate the teams that overachieve, the teams that find some magic, the teams who get a game further than the experts thought they could. And in that, I feel like it’s a celebration that much more closely resembles life than how we talk about other sports.

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