March madness embodies all that is right about sports. March Madness proves that Cinderella is not just for little girls. It demonstrates that the term villain and hero are relative depending where you sit on the court. Every year as the bracket dwindles down to the final two teams, the fans embark on a journey. As bracket busters and personal favorites move forward, crashing the big dance, fans invest more of themselves into every second of each game.

If there was ever a socially acceptable time to skip work and watch ten college kids run around and play with a ball, it is during the extraordinary time of year that is March Madness. As people from all over the nation welcome in spring, sports fans begin following college basketball with keen and unwavering intensity. Fueled by the unofficial symbol of college basketball, the bracket, March Madness generates rampant fandom that grips a nation in a way that is unparalleled in any other major American sports tournament.

The Madness begins as the selection committee reveals which 64 teams earned the right to compete for college basketball’s highest trophy. Selection Sunday means fans scrambling to contain their excitement as they await the final tournament bracket to form. At this point in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history, the bracket is so thoroughly enmeshed in the lore and culture of the tournament that its very presence is what drives the energy around it.

Whether you choose your picks by their seed, have your significant other make a selection by a team’s colors or you base it off of which mascot would win if paired in an actual fight (probably the best option), the backbone of fandom lies in the blank slots of the brackets.  By appealing to the inherent competitive nature of people and giving them a tangible metric for the competition, the bracket is a vehicle by which sports fans can be immersed in the madness. When coupled with the raw emotional highs and lows and the realness which comes from the spirit-filled games, fans are able to share in the triumphs and fall in the defeats of the tournament.

With the creation of a bracket, every game is considered equally as important as the others in the mind of a basketball fan. It is the reason that we tune in eagerly to see colleges we have never heard of in the same way we make a point to watch the team we have followed for years.  No matter what the matchup may be, the promise of an upset, a last second shot or a one-sided blowout, it all grab s the fans attention and does not let go until the final whistle.  The ability to see the progress of the tournament as teams move forward successfully or fade in heartbreaking form allows the fans to further connect with the game.

But outside of the bracket––which makes fandom surrounding the tournament seem superficial––why do we love March Madness with such intensity? Although March Madness appears to be nothing more than a series of college basketball games on the surface, its true value hits at a much deeper level. It is more than a sporting event; it gives sports fans something to be truly proud of and is emblematic of the way sports should be played.

There is something about the atmosphere around the tournament that we do not get in other sports. As a fan, the tournament provides moments of pure sports bliss; the moments where you feel your legs leap from a chair in celebration independent of thought. It is the feeling you get when your favorite team loses in overtime and tears well up in your eyes. It is watching a Cinderella team humble a titan of the sport round after round and the look in those players’ eyes as they celebrate. The true, unfiltered happiness in their expressions. That is what sports fans crave.

March Madness is the culmination of hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears. It is a group of unpaid athletes brimming with school pride and playing with emotional intensity that only comes with playing on the national stage. Think of the trajectory of emotions that come throughout a March Madness game. Think of the feeling that wells up inside you while watching as the ball floats in the air on a last second shot from the other end of the court or the sincerity of a celebration when a Cinderella team takes down a favorite.

We love March Madness because its storylines resonate at a personal level. The tournament is as much a tale of triumph as it is a series of games. With the bracket by our side, March Madness makes it easy to feel that pure unfiltered happiness or crushing tearful defeat as we watch the emotion unfold on the screen in front of us.

We fuel the madness because we crave the Madness, now just start thinking of those excuses to skip work.