Marching toward madness

Students will be milling around the quad, begging for scores and pulling brackets out of their pockets. In the science tech center, others will be glued to their computers, constantly refreshing web pages as they prolong bathroom breaks or just cut classes. And somewhere else on campus, yet another group of students will be gazing at a TV from the edge of their seats, changing position only to jump in the air and yell at the top of their lungs.

In short, it will be the beginning of March Madness.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, sometimes known as March Madness, where the top 65 teams in the highest college athletic division compete in a single-elimination bracket to become national champions. One of the most popular sporting events in the country, it perennially attracts the attention of more than just the portion of the student body that follows sports.

As a result of the student following, the deans began several years ago to put a television in the lounge to broadcast the opening round games, a tradition that continued  until this year. While the games are also shown on two smaller sets on the first floor of Taper, the lounge’s proximity to the heart of the school made it the main site to watch games during free periods. Members of the student government pitched the idea to deans several years ago as an activity that would help form bonds in the community. The deans, many of whom are fans, agreed.

“Some people were in favor of it, some people weren’t as much in favor of it, but we thought as long as it was controlled, it might be a nice thing for community building,” Upper School Dean Beth Slattery said.

However, problems have arisen in the past several years, jeopardizing present and future showings. The already sizable amount of trash in the lounge increases during the tournament, Slattery said. The location of her office in the lounge gave her the ideal position to watch the games with her students but has also made her the main enforcer of the rules by default, she said. In addition, she noted that there sometimes seems to be a grade hierarchy regarding which students get the couches and chairs with the best views of the television. While Slattery only occasionally felt the need in years past to go out into the lounge to establish the rules when the tournament was on, as opposed to going into the lounge solely to watch the games, she rarely has felt the need to do more than threaten to shut down the lounge and said that very few people had come forward to complain about the televising of the games.

However, the Math Department, located one floor above the lounge in Chalmers, often complained to the deans about the noise levels in past years. Since the last few days before spring break often coincide with the beginning of the tournament, the shouting interferes with testing. In addition, the department says that several students cut classes during the games.

Despite Slattery’s claims that few faculty members have needed to talk to the deans, complaints from the department have forced them to reconsider where they will show the games. As of press time, they still had not decided what venue they would use. However, it is very likely that the majority of sites on campus would end up disturbing one class or another. Many students feel that the departments should be willing to allow viewers to enjoy themselves while watching the games instead of being completely inhibited.

“For the most part, I think we stayed quiet and tried to respect the math teachers in Chalmers,” Stephen Adamson ’08, an avid follower of the tournament, said. “Usually, though, the teachers are going to have to get over it. If it’s a last second shot, people are going to yell.”

Regardless of where the games will be shown,  Math Department Head Paula Evans claims that the deans still need to come to grips with the fact that televising the games is contrary to the academic environment that the school strives for. However, Slattery still defends the practice of showing the games.

“It does feel like a little bit of a community thing, however misguided,” she said, “but it does feel like something where people enjoy being together with all different groups of people.”

Surrounding these issues is also a larger problem that both students and faculty are reluctant to address: the tournament is one of the most bet-upon sporting events of the year. The most common method of betting on the tournament makes use of brackets, in which each gambler chooses who will win each game and tries to predict how the tournament will play out. Each correct pick is given a certain amount of points, and the person with the most points after the championship is the winner of the pool of bettors that he or she has entered in. Many students watching the game carry their brackets on them at school, and Adamson would estimate conservatively that 35 percent of the students in the lounge are betting for money. However, while a large amount of students and betting pools are set up for bragging rights, many pools end up with pots in the hundreds of dollars.

 The Student Handbook has no qualms about defining the school’s policy on betting for money, clearly stating that “gambling is prohibited.”

Still, many students make no effort to hide their brackets. While students rarely talk about actual money in the lounge, Slattery said that she often hears students discussing who they’ve picked while watching the games.  The size of gambling pools has increased until the size of some of the larger pools reached roughly 150 people last year. While casual fans find it relatively easy to make their own bracket, boosting the size of many pools, Adamson said that one of the biggest contributors to growth in pools has been the website Facebook, which makes it easy for the heads of pools to invite students to join, especially those casual fans.

However, he doesn’t feel that there’s a large gambling culture at the school, since gambling decreases after the tournament. No student has had to be reprimanded for gambling while watching the tournament, according to Slattery, who doesn’t mind people being in pools. Still, though, the illegality is frowned upon by many faculty.
“Betting is a personal choice,” Evans said. “It is an illegal thing, and if they do bet I hope it’s just soft drinks in the cafeteria because that’s a good personal habit just like vegetables and fresh water.”

The deans don’t feel that there is any correlation between the TV and monetary gambling, though, so as the school heads into spring break they plan on continuing the tradition and allowing students to unwind before vacation by watching basketball.

“We’re looking for opportunities to let kids have fun on campus because this can be a stressful place,” Slattery said. “So it seems like a reasonably easy way to let kids enjoy themselves when its something that’s fun and people are following it anyway.”