I've asked myself a thousand times why I care so much, and the truth is there's no reasonable answer.
In a relatively short amount of time I've been fortunate enough to meet fantastic people from all walks of life, and many of them have been stunned when it becomes apparent just how much sports - and in particular college basketball - mean to me. For the most part they view athletics as a colossal waste of time, an outlook I rarely bother to dispute.
On the surface it all matters so little. Every day a good person dies, a marriage falls apart, someone has the best day of their life, someone has the worst day of their life, and none of it has anything to do with which team put a ball through a hoop more times than another the night before.
I don't argue the relevance of sport with non-fans not because I don't believe athletics matter, but because I believe the importance of a game can only be fully understood by a person who knows without doubt or question that they love it.
I love college basketball.
Human beings, I believe, are considerably more unhappy and dangerous when they're bored, and by that token it can be propounded that sports are inherently pro-happiness and pro-peace.
It's impossible to argue that war, for all its deplorable faults, is not interesting. Intricate strategy is involved, million dollar weapons are utilized, a man who would have otherwise lived a life of obscurity can become a national hero. It's all the stuff of great fiction.
I can't claim to have even the slightest understanding of the reality of war, but I've heard enough to gain a passionate appreciation for the state of peace that allows me to sit here and type this with fear for my life stored somewhere behind a box in the seasonal decorations closet of my brain.
Peace is good, and for peace to thrive it has to be interesting.
For multiple hours some odd days a week you're allowed to get completely lost in something undeniably interesting: Amazingly gifted individuals working amazingly hard to do amazing things. And in that time it doesn't matter who the person next to you voted for in the last election, or if they even voted at all, only that their clothing and shouts of approval or disapproval mimic yours.
It's the type of pure and simple joy that leaves you both nostalgic and anticipatory until you have the chance to do it all again.
Of course it isn't like athletics are the only phenomena capable of sparking these emotions. Sport exists in the same plane as film, aviation or sex. Which types of these things we find agreeable or how frequently they preoccupy our minds is something all of us still aren't fully (or minimally) able to control.
So like most anyone I find myself gravitating towards things I consider beautiful, be it a song, a woman, or a Seurat painting, and there are few things I find more attractive in this world than college basketball.
It isn't just that I find the game to be the most aesthetically appealing, or one of the best tests of true character - which I do - it's a myriad of things, some of which I've only been able to understand over time, and some more that I still don't.
I embrace second chances and truly believe that people can change for better or worse, so the fact that two weeks into the season, regardless of performance, every team will have each of its major goals in tact speaks to me. If you've worked as hard as you possibly can and learned as much as you possibly can for five months, then you deserve the opportunity to play until you lose come March.
Obtaining the sport's top prize is extremely unlikely for the vast majority of the 308 Division I teams eligible for postseason play, but thank God it's not impossible. Thank God the bottom-tier RPI school that won its conference tournament gets the chance to prove itself on the sport's biggest stage, and not inside a quarter-full stadium against a team that doesn't really want to be there, in a game that, for all intents and purposes, has absolutely zero significance. Thank God when George Mason beat Michigan State in 2005 that wasn't the way its season ended.
Indeed there will be triumphs this year, but as always the failures will far outnumber the successes. There will be literally hundreds of press conferences where teary-eyed twenty-somethings will be forced to sit at a table, answer questions, and come face-to-face with the realization that a goal they dedicated a large chunk of their lives towards will not be obtained. It's heartrending, but it's also - and there's no reason to even attempt to muzzle the dramatics at this point - beautiful.
I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be able to fully explain how I've reached the point where a game has so much control over my life, but to be honest the unknown why or how doesn't bother me anymore. Life really is so short, and when something makes you happy you don't question it, you simply relish the fact that it does.
I fully admit to missing a game or two of beer pong so I could watch Holy Cross' Tim Clifford man the post or Marist's Jared Jordan run the point during an ESPNU Friday night Patriot League/MAAC double-header. I fully admit to skipping countless days of school, practice and work since the first-grade to watch basketball games in March. And I fully admit that I will spend more time than any reasonable human being should thinking about, talking about, and watching college basketball for the next five months.
They say the worst thing you can do to love is deny it, and I'm willing to make myself very vulnerable for this game.