March Madness

By Tom Dardick

Many of us mark our calendars by the seasons of our favorite programs or our favorite sport. The Super Bowl perhaps stands above all others in this regard.

The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament has become a unique event that offers tremendous drama and value, even for the casual fan. It creates such a stir that sportscasters coopted the term March Madness to describe it. The term fits

Like many fans, I don’t watch the regular season games leading up to the tournament. I wouldn’t be able to say which school is a high or low seed before the final brackets are established. But once they are, it is fun to pick the teams for which to root. It could be some personal connection to a school or its nickname. Maybe you root for underdogs or teams that haven’t had prior success. Or maybe you are impressed with the chemistry or personalities on a team. In any case, it’s easy to be enthusiastic because of the intensity the structure of the event generates.

This might be where the Madness comes from. Enthusiasm by itself is certainly no bad thing, and enjoying exciting sporting events is a blessing. But there is a darker side. Actual figures are elusive due to its illicit nature, but betting on the outcome of the tournament is huge business. During the tournament, the question “how’s your bracket?” is ubiquitous in offices nationwide.

Las Vegas casinos reported last year $259 million wagered on the tournament. Experts believe the total nationwide is from 30 to 100 times that amount, perhaps as much as $25 billion. It’s a big number, but just the tip of the iceberg. Sports betting as a whole is estimated to generate anywhere from $100 – 400 billion annually.

This is real madness.

While gambling by itself can be relatively harmless and entertaining, it can lead to the violation of Biblical principles. Paul writes in Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin control the way you live, do not give in to sinful desires.”  He continues in verse 16: “Don’t you realize that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.”

Whether the figure in billions of dollars is 100 or 400, it is safe to expect that many people gamble more than is productive or healthy for them. It is a self-administered bondage, as addictions are. It is a soul sickness that would find an outlet if not in one thing then another.

March Madness has two connotations. One brings people together. The other isolates and destroys. One is innocent fun that creates a shared national experience that bonds us. The other is an expression of a debilitating sickness. Participation in an office pool does not equate to a gambling problem, just as having a drink is not the same as being an alcoholic. But we are wise to guard against the lure of an adrenaline rush and avoid unintentionally contributing to the struggles of others.