If all you know about March Madness is that it’s in March, you need an NCAA Tournament lesson. It’s actually more complicated than you would expect but we’ll just give you the short version so you can keep up with the many, many conversations about NCAA March Madness you’re going to hear for the next few weeks. First things first; March Madness and the NCAA Tournament are one and the same. The NCAA Tournament is the Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual contest to name the best national men’s and women’s college basketball teams. Naturally, the men get a lot more attention.
The NCAA divides teams into three divisions and schools must meet certain standards to qualify for Division I. According to the NCAA, “Schools who are members of Division I commit to maintaining a high academic standard for student-athletes in addition to a wide range of opportunities for athletics participation.”
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Each year 68 teams are chosen to participate in the NCAA Tournament and it’s a big deal. The teams are announced on Selection Sunday and you can see all the action by tuning in to the newly expanded two-hour NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show on Sunday, March 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET on CBS. Once the teams are chosen, the selection committees divide them into four geographical regions and seed them from 1-18 (1 being the best).
The tournament is divided into rounds; the first one — called First Four — narrows the field down to 64 teams and that’s when the official championship starts. Then you’ve got First and Second rounds, the third round is called Sweet Sixteen (16 teams remain), the fourth is called Elite Eight (8 teams) and the final round is the Final Four (the 4 remaining teams compete for the title). This year the First Four is on March 15 and 16 — the Final Four is on April 2 and 4 and everything else is in between.
Brackets are the real fun of NCAA March Madness. Once the teams are chosen and seeded, the bracket for the first round is created. A bracket is basically a chart of who is playing who in each round and the armchair game is predicting who you think will win each round and filling it in on a printed bracket. Usually there’s money involved and if you work in an office someone will probably start a pool. You may share Bill Maher’s view: “New Rule: While you’re telling me how your March Madness bracket is doing, you must also fill me in on your vacation and show me pictures of your kids. That way, I can not give a s**t all at once.” Of course, now that you’ve got the NCAA basics, you can print out your own bracket and play along — you’ll be die-hard college basketball fan by the Final Four!