How March Madness Became MARCH MADNESS!!!

(This is a preview of Sunday’s PopRox column in the Pocono Record.)

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — which starts in earnest March 21 and 22 with all-day viewing marathons — is no longer just about sports.

It’s one of those handful of events that has shoved its way out of being merely a sporting spectacle and is now firmly entrenched as a legitimate pop culture happening.

And it’s only happened in the last 10 years or so. Here’s how:

1. It’s now readily available to the public.

tee hee.

Some of the things I previously had to go through to watch multiple NCAA Tournament games at once not very long ago:

• From 1994 to 1997, my friends and I stole and spliced cable and set up three televisions in a community dorm room in central Pennsylvania because our cable provider offered three CBS channels. All we could do was hope we received different games from each channel. It worked about 10 percent of the time.

• In 1998 and 1999, I traveled some 50 miles to a friend’s house to watch the games because he had a satellite dish that picked up CBS stations from, like, Portland.

I did it because I’m a hard-core fan. Casual fans checked SportsCenter when they get home from work.

Now? Four easy-to-find channels, all day, no waiting, no muss, no fuss. As long as you have a basic cable package, you can watch every game from your couch.

2. It’s a great day to play hooky day.

Just don’t call in sick. No one is buying it anymore and you’re probably risking your job. Most of us have personal days for just such an occasion. Use one.

3. This, the original version, not any of the crappy versions that have come out since like 1992:

4. It’s now easy to find.

Let me preface this by saying I love bartenders. They’re good people. But geez, at least 50 percent of them need a crash course on how to change a channel on a TV, especially ones that work at specific sports bars. I swear, I had this same conversation every year I went out to bars to watch the games. I will say that these conversations did not take place in Monroe County:

Me: “Can you put such-and-such game on? It’s on channel 879.”

Bartender, with remote in hand, changing to blank screen: “Nope, it’s not on 879.”

Me: “It is, you just changed it to 789.”

Bartender: “Oh, ha ha, sorry. I think that’s because the batteries in the remote are worn out. (Playing with the remote, while I try not to burn my eyes out with a chicken wing) There.”

Me: “Nope, wrong game.”

hey great! but do you know how to change a channel?

Bartender: “Well, that’s the channel the last game was on.”

Me: “Yes, but that’s not the game I was asking about. That game is on two TVs down and I can easily see it. I’m looking for channel 879 for the such-and-such game.”

Bartender: “Hold on, I think I need a different remote for that.”

Me: “No, you’ve got the right one, trust me. Can you just give me the remote? I can get it on.”

Bartender: (Fiddling with the remote, again) “Sorry, the owner said I’m not allowed to let anyone use the remotes.”

Me: “Did the owner ever tell you how to actually use the remotes or leave a list of which games are on which channels?”

Bartender: “No, but you can ask him. He’s the one passed out on the pool table … There, got it!”

Me: “OK, but you accidentally also changed the TV next to it too, and I was watching that game. Now they’re both on the same channel, which is exactly the reason I didn’t stay home.”

Bartender: “Really? How many games do you watch at once?”

Me: “Four, that’s why I’m here.”

Bartender: “I could never do that. It’s hard enough for me to watch ‘The Bachelor’ because there’s so much going on! Sometimes I can, but a lot of times, I’d rather just watch the Kardash—”

Me: (Loud cheers from the other side of the bar from people watching the game I’ve been trying to get on) “OK, let’s try this again …”

Now bartenders can just put on the four channels the tournament is playing on — CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV — and tell everyone to find the TV they want for the whole day. No channel shenanigans necessary, so you have more time to contribute to the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign.

easy to understand and bet-able. yeah, I'm in.

5. We all have ownership.

Has your girlfriend or wife ever participated in a World Series pool? Has she ever filled out the brackets for the NBA Playoffs? No? Huh, that’s weird. Because she (and “he” as well, since there are guys who don’t watch a second of basketball until the NCAA Tournament rolls around) always seems to plunk down $10 to fill out her tournament brackets and willingly says, “Sure, I’ll go to the bar, watch basketball and drink with you for 12 hours.” Well, maybe that last part is just my wife. Anyway, whether you care about either team playing or not, you care about your brackets. Everyone does. It gets everyone at least partially interested in the games.

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