Did you fill out an NCAA Tournament basketball bracket this year? Even if you’re not generally a hoops fan, there’s usually a group of friends, or some co-workers, or family members that persuade you to join their pool and guess at winners. (Someone recently said to me that he loves watching rabid fans of the college game spend a long time pouring over stats before choosing, only to wind up at the end with a worse record than a non-fan who picked the teams with the coolest mascots.)

Choosing teams you know nothing about (even something simple as where they’re located) makes every game interesting. This year, in the men’s tournament, you can loudly root, root, root for not-so-dominant powerhouses such as Wagner, Longwood, St. Mary’s, Creighton, or a host of other hopeful entrants simply because by winning those teams could help you beat others in your pool.

As you’re no doubt aware, the teams are seeded and divided into four regions. In each of those regions, the number 1 seed always first plays the number 16 seed. It took until 2018, when the tournament was 80 years old, for a number 16 to defeat a number 1. The Retrievers of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County defeated Virginia and captured the hearts of underdog-lovers everywhere. FDU (Farleigh Dickinson University) matched UMBC’s feat last year by knocking off Purdue and ruining countless brackets on Day One.

I’m writing this column midweek, before the first round of the tournament gets underway. By the time you’re reading this, at least half the teams will already have been eliminated in a one-and-done format. Those who survive the first weekend of play will be forever able to call themselves a Sweet Sixteen team. They’ll have a week to prepare for their next showdown.

If you’re a college basketball fan, this is nirvana. Even if you’re not, choosing your teams can make you a rabid devotee of Gonzaga, or McNeese, or San Diego State, or Boise State, or whomever else you chose to win their games. So, you can watch any or all the games and pull hard for your picks. In some instances, there’s a small wager involved with those in your pool of play, but many participate simply for the glory of victory (or perhaps a small trophy that can be put in a place of honor at home or work and paraded around at special gatherings with great fanfare). Of course, in many states, you can now make everything from a token to bet-the-ranch wager on just about any aspect of the games, not just the winning teams. But it’s a lot less nerve-wracking to just play for bragging rights.

Every time the NCAA Tournament rolls around in a presidential election year, I’m struck by the similarities between its process and how we elect a new leader of the free world. Especially when there isn’t an incumbent in the White House. The 2016 election springs to mind. The initial debate stages for both the Democrats and Republicans couldn’t comfortably hold all the contenders. That’s kind of like the first round of March Madness. And, just as the initial game losers in the tournament, after that first debate, about half the would-be presidents realize the game is over, and they pack up and head home.

The second and third debates winnow the field even further. Finally, there are only two left standing. And We the People make our selection accordingly.

The similarities basically end there. Unfortunately, the competitive duration doesn’t quite match up. The NCAA Tournament lasts about three weeks. (This year, for example, the First Round began on March 21, and the title game will be played on April 8.) Shoot, it takes that long for the presidential candidates to all agree on the debate rules. And some of our elections feel as if they take three years, not three weeks. Wouldn’t it be nice if our electoral process lasted closer to the latter than the former?

The British have narrowed down the campaign length issue quite well. Once a parliament is dissolved, the general election takes place five weeks later. I’m thinking we could all stand just a little over a month of mudslinging and haranguing from our candidates if they’d only fold up their tents at the end of a shortened campaign time and get on with business. And who knows? Just as a Cinderella team potentially can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, we could possibly find a diamond-in-the-rough candidate who actually has our best interests at heart. It surely would make the whole election process a lot more palatable from an inflated blood pressure point of view. And we might actually vote FOR a candidate instead of AGAINST another one.

©MMXXIV. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer