Tired of sunburns, mosquito bites, and long plane rides? Regretting those eight margaritas you downed in Miami Beach, Honolulu, or Cancún? Perhaps you're just eager to gain respite from the dimly lit lecture halls affectionately called the gates of hell.
Whatever the reason, there may be a solution to your spring break woes: next time, watch the NCAA tournament in person instead. Lucky for you, it occurs during spring breaks all around the country.
I tested the waters at the Chicago Regional, curious about the atmosphere surrounding the games. Since the tickets ran $225 for six games, I wondered if the environment would be completely commercial or actually enjoyable for an avid sports fan. After all, a $10 movie ticket is steep enough for a penny-pinching college student. Could a $225 ticket even begin to live up to the March Madness hype?
To my delight, the regional was far from corporate and sterile. There was enthusiasm aplenty, mostly from cocky Badger and Jayhawk fans proclaiming their teams' assured places in the Final Four. (Seriously though, how could Wisconsin fans boo a 15-seed like Texas A&M-Corpus Christi? It brought back memories of Philadelphia Eagles fans booing Santa Claus.)
The theme of the tournament was school pride, and nowhere was it more evident than the sweatshirts fans wore with aplomb. I must have seen apparel from 30 or so schools, from Kansas to UCLA to Syracuse. (Clearly, wearing your heart on your sleeve — or your school name on your chest, as the case may be — is not limited to those Division I schools participating in this year's tournament.)
Apparently, I missed the memo for the Friday session and showed up wearing a label-free long-sleeved shirt and jeans. For the Sunday session, however, I thought it would be amusing to wear an MIT sweatshirt and show some Engineer love.
I received and appreciated strange looks from college students and middle-aged adults alike, wondering what a computer geek was doing at a basketball tournament. I contemplated making a sign: "Yes, MIT does have a basketball team, and unlike at your school, every member actually attends classes." We certainly don't have many athletes enrolled in History of Rock and Roll or Ballroom Dancing (Greg Oden of OSU basketball and Matt Leinart of USC football, anyone?).
That oddity aside, I hadn't been to an atmosphere so charged or enjoyable since I attended a Duke-Temple men's basketball game a year ago. The only difference is that this time, there were far fewer obscenities toward players. Really, who knew that people didn't like Blue Devil J.J. Redick?
On another note, I'd swear that every set of cheerleaders performed the exact same stunts over and over. Back flips after free throws have a short shelf life for impressing people — I'd say about three times.
If this sounds like your idea of paradise, I have three recommendations for any potential spectators: First of all, the games are fantastic alone, but almost certainly better if you bring a friend (or five). Second, it's absurdly fun to root for a team that has approximately 40 other supporters (the Islanders), or even 400 (the UNLV Runnin' Rebels). Everyone knows one of the best parts of March Madness is seeing upset after upset, so why not encourage one in the making?
Lastly, entering a stadium is roughly equivalent to passing through the TSA at the airport, so don't even think about bringing liquids or gels. (Actually, the United Center won't allow even a small backpack or water bottle, so in some ways it's worse than the airport, and who knew that was even possible anymore?)
All in all, I adored the shift from a dimly-lit lecture hall to a sweat-soaked stadium. Yes, a weekend at the NCAAs was a true indication that I Have Truly Found Paradise: no problem sets or papers, just game after game of basketball.