The NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of the most watched and awaited sports fixture in the US. It whips up a frenzy that is incredible. Almost the whole nation turns to basketball when the NCAA tournament starts.
The tourney is conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which lays down the rules for the 1,200-odd participating colleges and university members. Out of the 1,200 colleges and universities, 1,006 are active members and can participate in the NCAA tournament.
These colleges are organized into three divisions. Division I includes those colleges that sponsor at least seven sports each for men and women, or six for men and eight for women, with two team sports for each gender. Division II colleges are those that sponsor at least four sports each for men and women, with two team sports for each gender. Division III, which makes the bottom of the ladder, sponsors at least five sports each for men and women, with two team sports for each gender. The NCAA also lays down how many basketball matches each member is required to play in its Division.
The Division 1 tournament grabs the maximum public attention because the winners of this tournament qualify for what is known as March Madness. NCAA has laid elaborate rules for the selection of 64 women's teams and 65 men's teams that qualify for this grand event.
Thirty-one teams, both in men and women's division, get an automatic entry, because they are the winners of their respective conferences. A selection committee decides the remaining teams, 34 for men and 33 for women. The whole nation waits with bated breath to learn of the names of these teams that are announced on television.
The field of 64 teams is divided into four geographical regions, and seeded according to their performance in the elimination tournament. The team that is seeded one is the best is its group, while the team that is seeded 16 is considered the weakest in that group. Generally, the teams perform according to their seeding. But sometimes, a low-seeded team may create an upset. Such a team then gets to be known as the tourney Cinderella.
The tourney itself is played over a period of three weeks, beginning usually on the third Thursday of March. The first two days have packed schedules, and as many as 32 teams make an exit. The excitement continues over the next two days when the teams are reduced to Sweet 16. A four-day break ensues for the next round that leaves the top four or the Final Four to battle for the crown.
The winners of this grueling tourney are crowned college basketball champions, and become the toast of the nation.
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