Making time for March Madness

Basketball fans and non-fans alike come together for one of the biggest sporting events of the year

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Doug Pruitt’s glass of a dark micobrew, sweating as it rested on a coaster at the Library Co., a bar in Castle Rock, was still half full.

Arms crossed, eyes gazing upward at one of the four TVs behind the bar, Pruitt intently watched a college basketball game between Kansas and Oklahoma. He had no rooting interest. He was studying, more or less. And looking for a distraction.

“I better get used to this,” Pruitt said, as he smiled and took another sip of beer.

Pruitt is not a big basketball fan. But he fills out a bracket every March and will follow the games for the satisfaction of earning bragging rights over his brother.

This year, Pruitt said, he won’t hardly be away from the TV.

On March 20, one day before the tip-off of the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Pruitt is scheduled to get a vasectomy. He and his wife, Tasha, talked about it for months. Pruitt decided if he was going to couch-ridden for the better part of a week, he might as well do it while there’s something worth watching.

“I honestly would probably be watching these games if I was sitting at work,” he said. “At least this way I don’t feel bad about it.”

During the first two days of the first round of March Madness on March 21 and 22, Pruitt plans to watch as many games as possible. The 2019 broadcasting schedule has yet to be released, but last year, games ran nonstop on four different stations — CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV — from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Pruitt isn’t alone in his dedication to watching the games. In workplaces across the country, one of the most noticeable divots in worker productivity comes during the two-week stretch in March.

Distractions at work

Low worker productivity during the tournament two years ago contributed to about $6.3 billion in corporate losses nationwide, according to a 2018 report from WalletHub.com, a personal finance website,

Darrin Duber-Smith, a sports marketing expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the massive draw to the tournament can be attributed to a number of factors. For the most part, he said, it comes down to fans’ affinity for the sport and how they identify with universities playing in the tournament.

“Every school has a basketball program. They might not have football or lacrosse, but basketball is something that is ubiquitous,” Duber-Smith said. “It’s a culturally significant event. It happens every year and at the same time every year, and if you’re not into it, you’re going to be touched by it in some way.”

Between the men’s and women’s Division I tournaments and tournaments at other levels of competition, there will be hundreds of games played during March Madness.

“You have something for literally everybody,” Duber-Smith said.

Peter Craig, of Parker, a University of Kansas alumnus, said during March Madness he wears two hats: one as a raving Jayhawks fan, hoping his alma mater wins it all every year, and one as a fan of the bracket.

“It’s close, but I’d say my team is bigger than my bracket,” Craig said. “Every year, I always hope for a perfect bracket — everyone does — but in the end it’s just exciting to have that possibility. That’s why we love to watch sports anyway.”

More than 97 million people tuned in to watch the 2018 NCAA Tournament from the First Four to the Final Four rounds, according to NCAA.com.

The American Gaming Association, a casino gaming interest group, estimated more than 40 million people participated and filled out a total of 70 million brackets in 2018.

The madness that surrounds March reaches beyond the actual games. There’s the game within the game — bracket pools and gambling. Duber-Smith called it a “gambling orgy.”

But also, Duber-Smith said, the underdog mentality is something the casual fan can relate to, while the more invested fan will watch either supporting their bracket or their alma mater.

“Casual fans come in because it’s the idea of America loves an underdog, and there’s always lots of underdogs in the tournament,” Duber-Smith said. “I don’t think there’s anything more American than that.”

The underdog mentality

While usually not rooting for the underdog, Craig said he would be lying if he said he wasn’t excited by the upsets March Madness brings.

“The best part is we never know where the madness will come from,” he said.

Last year, the No. 16-seed University of Maryland-Baltimore County beat top-seeded University of Virginia as the first No. 16 seed to do so. Everyone was a UMBC fan after that, Craig said.

Dr. Travis Heath is a clinical psychologist at Metro State who has worked with and consulted in sports. He said the drive to see the underdog win is something that is within everybody.

“Most of us are underdogs,” Heath said. “When you see some of those stories, we can relate to that.”

According to WalletHub.com, 90 percent of workers say participating in a bracket pool at work builds camaraderie.

Laura Roth, of Castle Rock, said it brings her family and neighbors together.

“The kids can fill out a bracket,” Roth said, “the adults do — everyone can do this one thing.”

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