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  • Writer's pictureSkyla Clarke

What Even is March Madness?

I’ve only just recently gotten into basketball, and not for the reasons you might think. Last year, my TikTok ‘for you’ page showed me multiple edits of a player named Caitlin Clark. She played for the University of Iowa, and from my understanding, she was pretty good. In a quest to have a greater understanding of the sport, I started to watch the New Zealand Breakers play in the NBL. It was then when I realised the fast-paced excitement a basketball game can bring, especially when it comes down to just the final few seconds. 

I don’t believe that the final few seconds of any game are as important as they are in basketball. I also don’t believe that many kiwis understand just how exciting the game can be, as it doesn’t receive the same attention as our other mainstream sports. However, as I watched Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes reach the Final Four in the NCAA tournament March Madness, I felt like I needed to spread the word.  

March Madness is the pinnacle of college basketball, with only the best teams from NCAA Division 1 qualifying for a spot. The first men's tournament took place in 1939, with eight teams. Over time, the competition expanded to the size it is today, which is 68 teams, in 1985. The term “March Madness” was first used in reference to basketball in an Illinois high school, and became associated with the college tournament in 1982 when Brent Musberger used it during coverage of a match. 

The tournament runs through March (as per the name) into early April. It is considered ‘Madness’ due to the sheer excitement that it produces for basketball fans. The bracket challenge, the last-minute winners and of course the fear of elimination creates suspense for many fans, while multiple games are played per day. For football fans, imagine the Champions League tournament but including more teams, and played over just the course of a month. Would be awesome right? 

To explain this further, the 2023 Women’s March Madness bracket is inserted below. Every year millions from across the US attempt to guess each position correctly—a feat that has proved to be impossible with no winners in recorded history. 

The Women’s D1 college basketball tournament started in 1982, where 32 teams competed for the title. In 1994 it expanded to 64 teams, which is the current size of the tournament. However, it was only last year where the tournament was allowed to use official March Madness branding. The women’s tournament, like in all sports codes, previously did not receive anywhere near the same attention that the men’s did. However, the rise of Caitlin Clark and many other superstars brought great light to the sport. Large crowds were once unheard of in women’s sport, and this year the attendance has reached 231,777, setting a new record before the last rounds have even been played. 

Fans are just starting to realise that the inclusion of women’s basketball means that they can have double the entertainment, double the excitement, and double the suspense. However, one barrier that women’s sports has faced is the constant comparison of skill to men. Women’s basketball has often been discounted as less skillful than men’s and therefore less entertaining. But, thanks to the stars that have recently gained popularity, the tide is starting to turn. 

Caitlin Clark. Angel Reese. JuJu Watkins. Paige Bueckers. You may not have heard of them, but they are the biggest stars in women’s basketball at the moment. And just a couple of hours ago, each of these ballers played off against each other to try and push their teams to the Final Four. As Travis Scott tweeted “Today might be one of the illest days in women’s sports historyyyyyyy.” And ill it was. The matchups were unreal, Clark scored nine 3-pointers, Reese dominated defence and attack. Watkins scored a game-high 29, Bueckers scored 28. 

And so now we are on to the final four. Four teams will face off for the largest title in college basketball, and arguably the largest title in women’s basketball at the moment. Iowa, UConn, South Carolina and NC State will face off for positions in the final on April 6th. These games have gained more publicity than any other women’s basketball games in history. 

So why does this even matter? After all, New Zealand’s basketball scene is laughable compared to March Madness. Well, these women are paving the way for every girl who wants to play basketball. They are providing fans with entertainment, which is what every person craves when watching sport. The talent, the atmosphere, the rivalries. It’s all here. And thanks to these extremely talented women, people are starting to recognize it. 

“We're seeing a seismic shift in the world of sports, thanks to athletes like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and others who are captivating audiences with their talent and star power,” Chris Leyden, SeatGeek's growth marketing director, told CBS MoneyWatch. “This shift is largely driven by the potent brand power these athletes wield, fueling unprecedented demand for this year's March Madness tournament.” 

March Madness and the women who dominate it are changing the world of women’s sports in the US, and beyond. Check out the Final Four games this weekend, and you’ll see it. This tournament is bigger than just a couple of games. It’s a revolution.

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