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18-03-2022 by FSI Editors

March Madness: Time to Join the Craze!

March is just another month; a lovely month perhaps, signifying the beginning of Spring. An important month, where people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, unite in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and in taking action against racism.

In the United States however, March also signifies a huge celebration of youth athletics and sportsmanship as a vital part of education, of young people’s growth and development, promoting their achievements and the importance of team spirit in the quest for excellence. That celebration is the so-called “March Madness”, and is truly a tournament to watch and go crazy over!


What is March Madness?

According to the official website of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), “March Madness is one of the biggest, most exciting and fun events in all of sports”. It is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament that has been played since 1939. [...] The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is a single-elimination tournament of 68 teams that compete in seven rounds for the national championship. The penultimate round is known as the Final Four, when (you guessed it) only four teams are left”.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit organization that regulates student athletes from up to 1,268 North American institutions and conferences. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and helps over 480,000 college student athletes who compete annually in college sports. The organization is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The current three-division system of Division I, Division II, and Division III was adopted by the NCAA membership in a special convention in August 1973. Under NCAA rules, Division I and Division II schools can offer scholarships to athletes for playing a sport. (via Wikipedia).

So in short, the NCAA connects talented college athletes with their brightest future, and as they strive to reach it, young athletes give their best performances for the world to see! And it all starts with Selection Sunday.


What Is Selection Sunday?

There is a selection process for college basketball's NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments that determines which teams (68 men's and 68 women's) will enter the tournaments and their seedings and matchups in the knockout bracket.

Out of the 68 teams, 32 teams get an automatic entry, since there are 32 conferences in Division I where all winning teams receive an automatic bid, as winners of the conference tournament.

The remaining teams (36 men's, 36 women's) rely on the selection committee to award them an at-large bid in the tournament.

The selection process primarily takes place on Selection Sunday and the days leading up to it. Selection Sunday is also when the men's brackets and seeds are released to the public. Starting in 2022 the women's championship brackets and seeds are also announced on Selection Sunday, instead of one day later, as they used to.

The selection committee only selects the teams (36 for men and women) who receive at-large bids. Though each conference receives only one automatic bid, the selection committee may select any number of at-large teams from each conference. The at-large teams generally come from college basketball's top conferences, including the ACC, The American, A-10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, and SEC. Many of these at-large teams, however, are "on the bubble", meaning that their chances of gaining a tournament berth are borderline, and they will not know if they have gained entry until the Selection Sunday bracket announcements.


Selection Criteria

So, what are the selection criteria?

Originally, the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rating which ranks sports teams based upon their wins, losses and their strength of schedule - meaning the difficulty of their opponents, was often considered a factor in selecting and seeding the final few teams in the tournament field.

However, the NCAA selection committee in 2015 said the RPI was only utilized for grouping the teams into groups such as top 50 and top 100 teams, to value the wins and losses, and not as a factor for selection.

During the 2018 offseason, the NCAA announced that the RPI would no longer be used in the selection process for the Division I men's tournament. The RPI has been replaced by the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), a new metric that includes the following input data:

  • Game results
  • Strength of schedule
  • Location (home, away, or neutral site)
  • Scoring margin — Teams receive no added credit for victory margins above 10 points. Additionally, overtime games will be assigned a scoring margin of 1 point, regardless of the actual score.
  • Net offensive and defensive efficiency
  • All games will be evaluated equally; there is no bonus or penalty for when a game is played within the season.
  • Quality of wins and losses — The NCAA continues to use its "quadrant" system, introduced for the 2018 tournament selection process, to classify individual wins and losses. Quadrants are classified as follows, based on the location of the game with respect to the team under consideration and the ranking of its opponent in the NET as follows:


(source: Wikipedia)

Next to team selection, the selection committee proceeds with another important task: seeding.
Essentially, seeding is the process of matching up the teams in fixtures in such a way that stronger teams do not meet each other at the very start of a tournament. Each team is given a ranking from No.1 to No. 68 that signifies how the teams stack up against each other. On Selection Sunday teams are given seeds according to more or less the same stats used to determine at-large bids.

This year, as we read on Sports Illustrated:
Gonzaga claimed the No. 1 overall seed after a dominant regular season and a win in the West Coast Conference tournament. Arizona came in at No. 2 and Kansas at No. 3 after also coming out on top in their respective postseason tournaments. Defending NCAA champion Baylor rounded out the top four overall, slotting in at No. 4.

Here’s the complete seed list per ESPN’s Jeff Borzello:

1) Gonzaga
2) Arizona
3) Kansas
4) Baylor
5) Auburn
6) Kentucky
7) Villanova
8) Duke
9) Wisconsin
10) Tennessee
11) Purdue
12) Texas Tech
13) UCLA
14) Illinois
15) Providence
16) Arkansas
17) UConn
18) Houston
19) Saint Mary’s
20) Iowa
21) Alabama
22) LSU
23) Texas
24) Colorado State
25) Southern California
26) Murray State 
27) Michigan State
28) Ohio State
29) Boise State
30) North Carolina
31) San Diego State
32) Seton Hall
33) Creighton
34) TCU
35) Marquette
36) Memphis
37) San Francisco
38) Miami (FL)
39) Loyola Chicago
40) Davidson
41) Iowa State
42) Michigan
43) Wyoming
44) Rutgers
45) Indiana
46) Virginia Tech
47) Notre Dame
48) UAB
49) Richmond
50) New Mexico State
51) Chattanooga
52) South Dakota State
53) Vermont
54) Akron
55) Longwood
56) Yale
57) Colgate
58) Montana State
59) Delaware
60) Saint Peter’s 
61) Jacksonville State
62) Cal State Fullerton
63) Georgia State
64) Norfolk State
65) Wright State 
66) Bryant
67) Texas Southern
68) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi



Fan Engagement: The “Traditional” Bracket Challenge & Sports Betting 
The official NCAA website calls it “one of the best fan traditions in all of sports”; it’s the official bracket game of March Madness — for both the men's and women's tournament.
To make things even more interesting, the traditional March Madness Bracket Challenge allows fans to try their hand at predicting the winner of each game! Throughout the tournament, players get points for every correct prediction they make, with the points doubling up in every round. At the end of the tournament, the player in each group with the most points wins that group.

You can see what the modern NCAA Division I men's basketball championship bracket looks like, and get its PDF version via ncaa.com, here and here.

The NCAA also informs us about the popularity of the bracket challenge, stating that in 2018, tens of millions of brackets were filled out through major online bracket games, and while it's impossible to count the number of paper brackets filled out offline, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that group also ranks in the millions.
However, since 2018 and the repeal of The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, legalization and regulation of sports betting in the United States advanced rapidly; in 2022, at the time of writing 30 States and Washington D.C. offer live, legal sports betting, with three additional legal markets awaiting launch.

  • In the light of these data, the American Gaming Association (AGA) have announced in their latest survey press release that 45 million Americans (more than 17% of American adults) plan to wager $3.1 billion on this year’s NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

    Specifically, AGA’s survey indicates that:

    • 20.9 million Americans expect to bet on the tournament outside of bracket contests—at a retail sportsbook, online, with a bookie or casually with friends.
    • 36.5 million Americans will wager via a bracket contest or similar pool.

    At the moment of writing, the tournament carries on with the First Round (March 17-18) and 32 action-packed fixtures.
    The sheer size of the entire tournament, the amount of time and preparation behind it, the dreams fueling the effort of the young athletes as they offer sports fans thrilling moments on the basketball court have been shaping lives, and now they shape the U.S. gaming industry as well. This engagement surge is facilitated and further promoted by legal, regulated sports betting in the States, as well as cross-platform access to sports content and online betting.
    The globalization of sports, social media trends, and hyperconnectivity can very well turn March Madness to a sports mega-event of international interest sooner rather than later. All the pop culture staple elements are there: reality, sports, entertainment, competition, young icons and success stories, all ready to be shared with a tap or a click. As the brackets fill, times and technology are breaking down the distance barrier, preparing the rest of the world to join the craze and jump on the March Madness bandwagon.

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