If you sat down and wrote a list of the biggest events in sports, chances are the NCAA men's basketball tournament would be at the top. In fact, in terms of annual sporting events in this country, the tournament might only take a back seat to the Super Bowl.
What makes the tournament the best event in all of sports, however, is that the first round (easily the most exciting consecutive days on the sports calendar) is the only event that is far better on television than it is in person.
Now I know fans often say their couch is "the best seat in the house" but if I were to offer you tickets to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final, Kentucky Derby, or the Indy 500, chances are you wouldn't hesitate in taking them and having the time of your life. You might do the same thing if I offered you tickets to a first round tournament game but you would be making a huge mistake.
I've been there, and there's no more helpless feeling in sports as a fan than sitting through a first-round blowout while a couple of nailbiters are unfolding on opposite ends of the country.
Everything that makes the first round of the tournament so amazing to watch on television -- four do-or-die games going on simultaneously -- is exactly what makes it so frustrating to watch in person. After all, you can only be at one game at one time.
Did you see the attendance during the early first round games Thursday? They looked like the average turnout for a Florida Marlins game. If that wasn't bad enough, the best seats in the house were reserved for the media; many of them no doubt watching other games on their computers.
Normally the pomp and pageantry of being at a game trumps anything you could experience by watching on television, but that's not the case during the first round of the tournament. With so few fans actually traveling to the sites on such short notice and attendance at individual games being low due to the tickets being divided amongst eights schools, there's probably more excitement at your local sports bar than the sterile arena, which the NCAA has covered in generic blue carpeting and logos.
All the ingenuity that normally goes into tailgating is redirected at turning your room into the ultimate March Madness watch party and all the creativity normally used for sneaking drinks into the arena is used to sneak out of work or class. For example, my cousin, who is, um, battling the "flu," came over to my place Thursday to set up a very amateurish two-television, two-laptop viewing area where we could watch all four games at once. It was an amateur set-up that would be laughed at by any respectable sports bar but made us feel like MacGyver when we were done.
As I sat in front of our four-screen set-up on Thursday morning, knowing that I likely wouldn't move much over the next 48 hours, I was once again reminded why this is the best two days in sports and why, for once, we could say we had the best seat in the house and actually mean it.