March is a crazy time of year for an accountant’s family. Associating the month with “madness” seems only natural. My dad would work long hours into the night, only to wake up before dawn and begin the process all over again, slowly but surely making a dent in the tax returns piled around his desk. When a teacher once asked me what my favorite day of the year was, I replied, “April 15”—because that was the day I got my daddy back from the monster of tax season.
But the pre-April season was not all bleakness and drudgery. My father raised us to revel in the craziness and mayhem of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with all its upsets, last-minute heartbreaks, and astounding buzzer shots. Since I was a very young child, March Madness has been a tradition in our family that bound us together and gave us opportunities to connect, even in the craziest of times.
As we look back on the beginning months of 2017, it seems many thus far associate this year with madness and frenzy. We Americans are busier than ever, and our political polarization has fomented a lot of rage and resentment. Perhaps, in the midst of this turmoil, “March Madness” is exactly what we need to stem the craziness.
So here are some ideas from my family to yours to help make March Madness an opportunity for fellowship and fun. May the best bracket win.
1. Make March Madness a Family Affair
Dad got us interested in the NCAA basketball tournament early. My youngest brother was probably four years old when he started participating. We were a little young to fill out our own brackets, though. So dad devised his own system: he printed out a bracket, then cut out each of the team’s names. He put all teams seeded 8 to 16 in a hat, and we took turns drawing them. Then he did the same with teams seeded 4 to 7. Finally, we all got to draw from the teams seeded 1 to 3. (This way, we all got a decent shot at winning, and no one accidentally got stuck with all the 12-16 teams.)
Dad then printed out another bracket, and used colored highlighters to designate which teams belonged to which kid. (My sister got purple, I got pink, and my brothers got blue and orange.) As the tournament wore on, he’d use those colors to help us follow our teams through the games. Whoever won the final championship game got to pick a restaurant for a family dinner. My littlest brother would always pick McDonald’s when he won, but that decision was vetoed every time.
I remember, as a five- or six-year-old, sitting by the television with my sister and parents, watching my team (I think it was Villanova) play with baited breath. The method we used enabled me to get excited, because this was “my” team. It gave a sense of ownership and involvement that was very unique, and that normal tournament play doesn’t convey. I still think this is one of the most fun methods to participate in the tournament.
Not every kid will get super-excited about the games. But when you throw in a celebratory family dinner, it suddenly gets interesting, and enables everyone to enjoy a little family rivalry.
2. Make A Pool For Your Office, Friends, or Church Family
The other thing my dad has always done is to organize a March Madness league for his office of tax professionals. It’s always called “Tax Season Distractions,” and adds a little fun to the busy office. He usually includes a few close friends and family members: when I turned nine, I graduated from drawing teams to putting together my own bracket. (That is also, coincidentally, one of the only years I remember winning. Apparently choosing teams by color has its merits.)
There are many websites that enable folks to put together a March Madness Tournament pool: CBS, NCAA, Yahoo Sports, and others. Personally, having used multiple websites in the past, I’d argue that Yahoo Sports is by far the easiest to use. The graphics are clean and simple, and they enable you to join a variety of pools with the same bracket, or with multiple brackets.
My dad has always given a gift card from the town’s local coffee shop as a prize to the tournament winner. Other ideas from previous brackets I’ve participated in: a nice bottle of whiskey, a hardcover book or series of books, or a restaurant gift card. In a tournament I’ve put together the past three years, we do what my family did: the victor picks a restaurant at which we can all have dinner together. There’s always, also, the sheer joy of bragging rights.
3. Watch the Games With Friends or Neighbors
Americans aren’t always good at gathering on a regular basis. We’ve got our Netflix shows, the work we bring home, our kid’s sports commitments and extra-curricular activities. We’re busy, busy, busy.
But we need fellowship, more than ever. Social media usage is associated with a heightened sense of isolation; a lot of Americans are on the move, as they seek out career opportunities; more of us than ever before are working from home or remotely in some capacity. We’re tempted to disconnection at every turn.
What better method of community-building than a sports tournament that goes on for several weeks? The games are fast-paced and exciting, full of twists and turns. The folks who have absolutely no interest in sports can show up for the food and fellowship. The people who’ve never watched basketball before will find it incredibly easy to follow. In a world that needs connection, every opportunity for closeness should count.
4. Show Off Your Home State Pride
One thing surprises me every year: the amount of pride and belonging expatriates invest in their home states. The California kid picks the California teams. The Midwesterner picks his state or region’s best bets. Folks from North Carolina fight over their loyalties to Duke or the Tar Heels; Kansas folks doggedly follow the Jayhawks. We all have a home team we like to cheer for.
Washington DC is full of people from other lands. But during March Madness, we all get to celebrate the places we come from. We pull out old college sweatshirts, or brag about our home teams on our Twitter feed. We attend games together, when we’re able. We get to share a piece of who we are.
5. Make March Madness a Yearly Tradition
Once you do this once, I bet you’ll want to do it again. But if you get last place in the tournament, and all your teams do poorly, you may be tempted to say this whole thing isn’t for you. You’re not a basketball geek. The games are too volatile. Your friends teased you too much when you lost.
But give it a year. There will always be surprise upsets. There will always be twists and turns. Even the most experienced basketball watcher can get last in this tournament—there’s no way of knowing how these games will turn out. For your own sake, you should keep trying for a win. You may get lucky the next time.
But additionally, the tournament teaches us good sportsmanship. It helps us prize camaraderie over success. Because let’s be honest, this tournament is incredibly difficult to win. It’s not all about sports savvy. A lot of it is about luck. Consider: you have a 1 in 772 billion chance of getting a perfect bracket. That’s how many crazy twists and turns there are in this tournament.
So unlike other tournaments—like many fantasy football leagues, in which there are usually a couple folks who dominate the pool every year—this tournament gives everyone, even the nine-year-old, a fair shot at victory. And it teaches the rest of us humility.
Happy March Madness To All
So I hope you enjoy this season of mayhem, whether you’re busy with tax returns or filling out a bracket. Over the past 20-plus years, this has become one of my favorite seasons, despite the muddy brown weather, doldrums of tax season, and stresses of college midterms. I hope that you will enjoy it, as well.