March Madness at Dartmouth

by Alison Hagen | 3/29/17 2:02am

Dartmouth’s men’s basketball team has not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1959, and it seems unlikely that it will do so in the near future. However, that does not stop numerous students at the College from joining the March Madness craze. What drives students to spend countless hours doing research, watching basketball games on television and debating opinions with friends? It’s all in the “madness.”

Many fraternities on campus have their own March Madness bracket pools. Brian Li ’17 organized the competition for Zeta Psi this year and even invited alumni to participate. He finds that brothers often do it purely for the fun of it.

“The biggest part about March Madness is camaraderie and not about anything else really,” Li said. “I don’t think anyone expects to get a perfect bracket and win the billion dollars from ESPN, so it’s mainly just a group to play with friends.”

While it may seem surprising to some, March Madness also draws intrigue since it is so easy to participate without extensive knowledge about the basketball teams that compete in the tournament.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of people within Zete who actually know March Madness,” Li said. “Look, no one really knows who is going to win, who is going to lose, the fun is just guessing. Just guess and just have a good time with it. And then it’s kind of fun to see how far your guessing takes you.”

Each year, plenty of statistics and analytical resources are released to help people predict the results of the basketball tournament, but in the end, students often find participating to be purely a guessing game. With the spontaneity of college basketball results, students are kept on their toes throughout the month to discover how their luck plays out. Sam Forstner ’18, who is participating in Phi Delta Alpha’s competition, noticed this pattern.

“I think it is mostly luck,” Forstner said. “People who think they know a lot still tend not to do very well, and oftentimes it’s the person who knows the least who just ends up getting lucky and winning.”

The excitement associated with getting lucky is not the only reason students are so eager to participate in March Madness. Li noticed three other factors that lead to students’ active involvement.

The first, he said, is that the variety of geographies represented in the tournament is much broader than in many professional sports, where teams nearly exclusively represent large cities. Meanwhile, the men’s tournament’s Final Four — the University of South Carolina, Gonzaga University, the University of Oregon and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — represent greater areas and less populous states. Secondly, the 60 teams in the first round allows for a greater number of possible outcomes. Finally, he said, the cultural significance of the tournament and the sheer number of people nationwide make participating appealing for many.

Jerry Peng ’18, the organizer of Kappa Kappa Kappa’s bracket, also finds that students enjoy watching the NCAA Tournament since they can easily relate to the athletes. Since the basketball players are around the same age, students often become fans on a closer level and appreciate their devotion to the sport. One of Peng’s favorite parts of March Madness is watching “pure adulation in those athletes’ faces” when they achieve success.

“A lot of these kids know they’re not playing professional basketball,” Peng said. Most of these kids actually are not going to play professional basketball, so they’re really just playing for their school and their love for the game.”

Peng, Li and Forstner all noted that since students are unable to root for Dartmouth in the tournament, they often are fans of teams local to their hometowns. The tournament can certainly get competitive and include plenty of “trash talk,” but overall the experience is enjoyable and brings friends together.

“I think it’s a good way of just having friendly competition between people, and I think the randomness of it is sort of what’s appealing,” Forstner said. “So many crazy things happen every year, and even if you don’t end up winning, you get a good feeling if you predicted something that was unlikely. Even if it is mostly luck, you kind of feel clever if you pick a good upset.”

Sam Forstner is a former staff writer for The Dartmouth.