I’ve now mentioned my mother at least twice in my few writings for this blog. She’s a sports fan, but she’s certainly not your traditional sports fan. She loves the idea of sports, but, with the exception of the few teams she follows, she doesn’t watch much of anything.
So when March Madness rolls around, she decides to do something fun: she makes a bracket picking games not based on quality, or mascots, or colors, or attractiveness of cheerleaders, or anything else. She makes one based on where she’d rather live.
As someone who has traveled extensively, she has a good idea about where she can see herself moving—and where she can’t. She has an affinity for her home state of California, as well as her adopted home state of Maryland. She almost always avoids Texas, and stoutly refuses to pick anywhere in Florida (even though I’ve explained to her that Miami is awesome.) I’ve also taken to doing this. I’ve also been just about everywhere and know that I will never, ever, ever want to live in Kansas.
A lot goes into these decisions. For my mom, especially, there is an emphasis on being close to family, and living in a city with a strong economy and agreeable climate. San Diego State and UCLA have pretty easy paths, but we also both liked Oregon, where we used to live.
It’s liberating to not have to think about whether Stephen F. Austin can handle the great guard play of Utah or if Eastern Washington has what it takes to beat Georgetown. The tough decisions aren’t about predictions—they’re about whether you’d rather spend the rest of your days in Salt Lake City or Nacogdoches, or Spokane or Fargo. (Both tough choices.)
I think that this activity speaks to the power of the bracket. It allows us to think about schools we never think about, and consider living places we would never have thought to visit. Just take a look at the bracket. How many schools have you heard of only because of college basketball? Would you know there was a school called Valparaiso if it weren’t for their tournament appearances? While other sports are about seeing teams from the same 30 or so cities compete, the NCAA tournament is about a wide range of teams from all 32 collegiate athletic conferences, as well as a wide range of cities. It puts the Cedar Falls, Iowas and Laramie, Wyomings of the world on the map, at least for a weekend.
It also speaks to how we connect to sports. We love rooting for our hometown team, but when there are 68 teams from all across the country, there are bound to be games where we have no allegiances. At that point, some people choose to sit back. But in my household, it won’t be Eastern Washington vs. Georgetown or Wofford vs. Arkansas, it’ll be Cheney vs. DC and Spartanburg vs. Jonesboro. The bracket is a canvas upon which stat heads, casual fans, and crazy people like us can do what they please, and that’s why I love March. And while I don’t see my bracket where UC Irvine beats Oregon in the title game playing out in real life, I enjoy the NCAA-sanctioned geographical sandbox we’re all given each year.