by Kevin Pulsifer

For most of us, registration for the fall semester is here. When you’re picking your classes, keep in mind how you’re going to feel at different points during the semester.

For example, in October, Daylight Savings Time hits us again, and it gets dark at 5 p.m. Don’t take a night class unless you want to be walking around after sundown.

Don’t take Monday morning 8:30 classes if you plan on watching football all day Sunday—save room for last-minute homework.In the spring, that’s not as big a deal, and it might even be better to take early classes so you have the afternoons available when warmer weather arrives.

When I registered for spring classes last November, there was one main reason I was excited for my spring schedule. With no classes on Friday, and Thursdays ending at 12:45, my weekend starts early. Never is this more important than on March 21 and 22.

The most exciting four-day stretch in sports has finally arrived. March Madness is here, and out of the entire opening rounds, I’m only missing half an hour of the Michigan State-Valparaiso game.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t notice this wonderful opportunity back in November. I made 14 men’s brackets and five women’s brackets. Judge me, if you want, for caring too much. Call me mad. I’ll just smile and embrace it. Because that’s what this is about.

The madness has finally arrived.

Yes, the play-in games were a few days ago. But those are simply the appetizers for the bountiful feast we are about to gorge ourselves on for the next three weeks, as if we were previously stranded on an island with a volleyball named Wilson.

Those play-in games are like syllabus week. Sure, everyone watches. But points aren’t awarded to brackets, just as grades aren’t assigned on the first day of class.

If you’re still not convinced, let me explain it to you—the madness, that is.

Excluding a 45-minute break for the evening news, the NCAA Tournament runs from noon until midnight during the first weekend, on either CBS, TNT, TBS, or TruTV.  The second week of games is a little thinner, but the higher-ups in cable television have arranged the schedule to ensure that millions will be sitting on their couches for entire days at a time.

Studies have shown, however, that the average person spends two hours every day either switching the channel or simply looking for TruTV on their channel listings. So there’s that.

This postseason extravaganza brings people together from all walks of life. Self-proclaimed experts spend hours poring over research, while their uninformed sisters—no offense to women who study the sport, you’re included as part of the experts—pick based on colors and mascots (“A Bearcat would crush a Hoosier!” “What’s a Hoosier?”)

And there’s nothing wrong with that! Anyone who thought Bulldogs and Huskies were cute in 2011 likely won their pool and is still bragging about it to this day.

That’s how big a deal it is. Everyone plays. Not everyone for money. And not everyone plays for competition. But everyone fills out a bracket. Madness.

Even the commander-in-chief likes to go dancing in March. It is one of the few times that President Obama seems more relatable to the average American. “Obama put Kentucky in the finals?! I put Kentucky in the finals too! Twins!”

Does President Obama make predictions for the BCS title game? If he did, I hope he didn’t pick Notre Dame. But the point is, no other sport can boast a playoff system that compares to college basketball.

College football has finally realized that brackets are a good idea, even with just four or six teams. Major League Baseball was a little too stingy with who they allow in, so they created a second wild-card team. But I’m not a huge fan of a one-game playoff.

Don’t even try to vouch for the NBA and NHL. Over 50 percent of the teams in those leagues can “go dancing” come championship season, and it takes over a month to sort out. Wake me up when it’s over.

Even the NFL, who carefully awards seeding and only allows decent teams in, gives teams first-round byes and home-field advantage.

Maybe there’s a bit of geographical leeway in college hoops, but there are certainly no byes. The top seeds at least have to sweat out a first-round matchup against a no-name conference winner. Most pro teams are eliminated, figuratively or mathematically, halfway through the season.

Two weeks ago, every single college basketball team was still eligible for the title. Sure, the odds are near impossible for Grambling State, who failed to win a regular season game, or even lose in single-digits. But it was possible.

Any team strong enough to win six games in a row—not even counting conference tournaments—deserves a title. Madness.

This gets all the stat geeks extremely excited. Because even with the “gimme” 1-seed accounted for, less than one percent of brackets will be perfect after a mere six hours.

There must be some way to determine which teams move on, and which teams don’t. Which teams only play good at home? Who only plays well at night? Research! Ask the experts! Pay people to do the research for you!

Some sites offer “deals” for their insider content, only $29.99 for their so-called “expert” picks. That takes the fun out of it. I’d rather entertain myself by flipping a coin or by comparing mascots.

But no matter how much—or little—research you do, your bracket will be in complete shambles by 5:30 on Saturday afternoon. I’m sure all 37 people who picked Lehigh over Duke last year are trying to reason with me right now, but please. Tell me that wasn’t a joke pick from the start.

So after you pray that every last scenario works in your favor (“You need Kansas to beat Michigan, then have Duke lose to Florida and even if Gonzaga beats Florida in triple overtime, but Middle Tennessee State wins the title, you still only tie for first place.” “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”), you’ll finally succumb to the five stages of grief that accompanies all March Madness participants, at some point during the 23-day stretch from mid-March to early April.

First is denial. Your bracket could still theoretically pan out positively. But after your champion starts to falter in the Sweet 16, you turn to…

Bargaining. You’ll go to church on Sunday if your team turns it around. You’ll buy a gym subscription with the winnings, if only you could win first. There’s got to be something you can do. But there isn’t. So you get…

Angry.  “Every bleepin’ year I put $20 in this bracket, and every bleepin’ year I lose. I’m done. I swear I’m never doing this again. This game gets me so mad. I hate it!”

Without a true rooting interest for the rest of the tournament, depression strikes. It’s the same feeling Cleveland Browns fans get in September, the same feeling New York Mets fans get in August.

You’re losing, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It doesn’t last long, however, because millions nationwide are suffering from the same symptom as you—namely, that you’re not the luckiest person in the country.

Eventually, you’ll settle for acceptance, realizing that you got a little too hyped up and a little too mad over a few college basketball games.

Life will calm down again (unless you’re like me, who happens to turn 21 on the day of the NCAA championship game), and your friends will be back to normal, except for the one guy who won $650 by correctly choosing Cincinnati over South Dakota State.

For a month, you’ll be jealous. Then you’ll realize he simply got lucky, and next year, it’ll be your year.  You’ll win. And it will be the best three weeks of your life. Madness. Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma- MAD-MAD-MADness. I- I can’t get these memories out of my mind—like some kind of madness is taking control.

Now will someone please get Muse out of my head? Seriously, that song is driving me insane.


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