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Madness, March and Otherwise

- March 12, 2009

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The seedings for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be announced Sunday evening, setting off the annual frenzy known as “March Madness.”

This 65-team single-elimination tournament isn’t the only thing about big-time college sports that can aptly be considered “madness.” Much has been written — ranging from dry scholarly books and articles full of regression equations through impassioned charges by critics and countercharges by defenders about the role of athletics within modern American colleges and universities. I’ve followed all this with great interest and have made occasional contributions to this literature myself. Some time ago I stopped reading and writing on this topic because I concluded that everything worthwhile that could be said had already been said, many times, and all that were now appearing were reheated rehashes.

The other day, though, the Wall Street Journal ran a nice piece by economist Andrew Zimbalist, focusing on financial aspects of the NCAA tournament but also touching on broader issues involving the economics of big-time college sports programs. If you’re largely ignorant about such matters, Zimbalist’s article will give you a good first-cut understanding of them; even if you’re already pretty well versed, you’ll find some good new stuff there. In any event, Zimbalist provides plenty of food for thought as you bulk up in preparation for submitting the form that’s going to win you the office pool and settling in on the couch for three weeks of watching college hoops.