Why you should care
Because data improves our perception, and we can do better in our office pool bracket challenge this year.
March Madness is upon us, and with it a dizzying array of numbers. The field of 64 teams will play 63 games over the next three weeks at 12 different venues spread across four geographic regions. The ultimate goal: the Final Four in Houston, where on April 4 only one team will earn the right to cut the nets down.
It’s a colossal sporting event fueled by school spirit and a nation’s bonding over brackets. These six stats might help encapsulate it.
In the last 30 years, seven schools have gobbled up a total of 21 championships. A pair of this year’s No. 1 seeds, Kansas and North Carolina, are part of that elite group, which also includes Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Louisville and Kentucky. In the tournament’s 77-year history, 315 different teams have qualified for the Big Dance, yet only 35 of those participants (or roughly 11 percent) have actually won a championship.
Look no further than your television to see the enormous growth of the tournament, which pulled in more than $684 million in TV revenue in 2013, according to the NCAA’s most recent estimates. That’s up from $5.16 million in 1979, when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced off in a championship matchup that still stands as the highest-rated college hoops contest ever.
During the 1986 tourney, CBS televised 40 hours and 51 minutes of game action, using 15 network personalities, including Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist. This year, there will be more than 175 hours of tournament programming across CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. Raftery and Lundquist are still in the mix, but so are 33 other commentators. And this time, the championship game will air on cable (TBS) for the first time in history.
This year’s four No. 1 seeds — Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia — have a combined 23 losses, the most since the tournament started seeding teams in 1979. Their loss total is equal to that of the field’s top seeds from 2014 and 2015 combined, and only one other time, in 2000, did the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds combine for as many as 20 losses.
Blame those brackets! More than $12 billion will be wagered on the 2016 NCAA tournament worldwide, a bigger total handle than the Super Bowl, according to RJ Bell, founder and CEO of Las Vegas–based Pregame.com. The American Gaming Association estimates that $9.2 billion will be bet on the tournament in the U.S. alone, yet roughly $262 million (or less than 3 percent of the total sum) is expected to be wagered legally at Nevada sports books, with the rest of the money exchanged through office pools, illicit offshore sites and illegal bookmakers. More than 70 million brackets will be filled out in the U.S., according to the AGA. No presidential candidate has ever received 70 million votes, so don’t expect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to match the nationwide popularity of the NCAA Tournament.
March Madness is synonymous with late-game heroics, buzzer beaters and overtime drama. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 67 games in 2011, nearly one in four contests has come down to the closing seconds. In 335 NCAA Tournament contests over the past five years, 22.7 percent of them have gone to overtime or been decided by three points or fewer.
Amazingly, teams entering the tournament with a losing record have now won a game in eight of 10 appearances since the field expanded beyond 64 teams in 2001.
There’s something to be said for peaking at the right time.
Holy Cross became the latest to do so, knocking off Southern in Wednesday night’s play-in game.