If you are still trying to figure out how our big nation can do better than a solitary Olympic gold, then the recently concluded National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s division I basketball tournament in the US could reveal one possible option.
Popularly known as “March Madness” for the sheer fan frenzy it generates—US President Barack Obama in usual messianic fashion predicted the eventual winner—the tournament is symbolic of the American bottom-up approach to sport. And it is worth investigating “March Madness” for tips on how to help and promote India’s huge number of school and college-level athletes.
On 6 April the North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Michigan State Spartans to win the 71st edition of the “March Madness” competition. The tournament, which began on 17 March, comprised 65 college teams pooled into four regional knock-out competitions. The regional winners were then grouped into a “Final Four” round comprising two semi-finals and a national championship game.
To give you some idea of how seriously the tournament is taken, new regulations demand that stadiums used for the semis and finals seat at least 70,000 people. (In comparison, the Ferozeshah Kotla cricket stadium in New Delhi seats 48,000.)
Besides promoting high-quality basketball and basketball infrastructure in so many colleges and universities, the NCAA basketball system also feeds the mainstream National Basketball Association (NBA) with talent. NBA greats such as Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and Glen Rice were all awarded the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award in various years.
And it makes money. Pots of it. According to one estimate, this year’s “March Madness” will garner more than half a billion dollars in advertisement revenue. Not bad for a recession year.
There are lessons here for our sports administrators. With the right effort, and starting with market-ready cricket, college-level sports could be rich fodder for such promotion. Besides identifying stars, it can also bring in much-needed funding for sports infrastructure at grass roots levels. Regional loyalties are vital for this kind of model to work. But as current reality television programming tells us, this is not impossible to achieve. Starting with cricket and then other sports, the madness could go on for months on end.
Can India have its own “March Madness”? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org