With the the exciting conclusion of March Madness on the horizon as NCAA basketball’s semi-finalists set to square off for supremacy this weekend, chances are your interest in the tournament has waned commensurate to the failure of some of your predictions. Don’t feel bad. With the odds of picking a perfect bracket stacked at an eye-poppingly insurmountable 1 in 9.2 quintillion, you’re not alone. To make matters worse, those odds have only been rising with the addition of factors such as play-in games and increased parity driving a record number of upsets. However, even as the odds of winning get worse, the participation in competitions to choose a perfect (or closest to perfect) NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket has grown exponentially in the past 30 years.
Barriers to Entry
Advancements in television, cable, marketing, and even shifting cultural trends, are all factors often cited for the increased March Madness bracket tournament participation. Even when taking these variables into consideration, the force of the growing Internet and advancements in web hosting technology cannot be ignored as primary influences for the uptick.
Think of the effort that individuals put into launching, running and competing in March Madness bracket challenges as recently as the early 90’s. For instance, if you had a strong inkling in 1992 that Chris Webber’s Fab Five Michigan Wolverine Freshman were going to make a run at Christian Laettner’s mighty Duke Blue Devils and wanted to put your money where your mouth is (so to speak), you would have had to find (or arrange) a group that wanted to participate in a bracket competition, find a physical bracket (or manually draw and populate one) to fill in with your picks, and then calculate responses against a number of submissions, all containing at least 64 different win/loss variables. This was a painstaking process that not only limited the playing field to die-hard college basketball fans, but also precluded NCAA Tournament prognostication from becoming the big business and news story that it has become in this millennium.
Innovation Leads to Proliferation
With a number in excess of 60 million Americans participating in 2014, some estimate that March Madness pool activity has grown 2,000% since the field of teams admitted to the Tournament expanded to 64 in 1985. While this increase has been somewhat gradual, it’s sharpest upward growth came in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when many entities promoting the NCAA Tournament, such as CBS and ESPN, began offering platforms to not only fill in and store the variable selections in your bracket on their websites, but also to pit those selections against people filling out brackets around the world. This newfound ease of use served as the proverbial game-changer that spread this cultural phenomenon from barstools to office cubicles and led the sideways glances you might have got when mentioning your March Madness “pool” or “bracket” in many settings, to comparing said bracket with one your Mom may have filled out.
Development Drives the Trend
While general growth of the Internet and the hyperconnectivity it’s ceded has led to many casual observers participating in March Madness pools, these new online platforms have helped hurdle many barriers to widespread adoption, such as cutting the time individuals had to earmark for participation to a fraction of that spent in the above example from 1992. Therefore, the hero to credit much of today’s Bracketmania is the parallel advancement of database and web hosting technology.
Many of the early 80’s object databases could be populated with tournament matchups, however storing the results of many participants and comparing them based on a set of variables required advancement in communication, computing, and storage that wouldn’t be proliferated for years. From the starting point object databases provided, the development of relational databases and database management systems led to the adoption of SQL databases; the most popular tool for processing March Madness bracket results today.
Technology Propels Cult Game into American Tradition
The eventual growth of the Internet and the need to develop powerful servers to process the information it generates and transfers, led to the March Madness hysteria we witness today. Popular bracket pool outlets dedicate Highly Available server clusters to the SQL databases storing participant results. This data is then processed by a High Performance hosting architecture made up of dedicated servers, load balancers, and switches with resources dedicated toward processing results. With the current popularity of March Madness, this requires thousands of servers to handle the increasing load on many participants go-to outlets.
The resulting technology has made forming your own March Madness pool as easy as creating a profile and setting a password on any site providing the service. Any individual doing that much can then spread this information to potential participants who follow up by doing the same, setting their picks and then letting databases and the computer power of the servers they’re hosted on do the rest of the work. With the relative simplicity of this task compared to the effort it took to participate prior to the involvement of databases and servers, it’s very easy to see how technology has propelled March Madness pools into their current status as an American tradition.