The Educational Value of March Madness

It would be disingenuous of me to claim that I take an interest in the NCAA’s March Madness only so that I can teach my kids valuable lessons they certainly won’t learn in school.

The truth is, I’m a sports nut and the next few days allow my kids to be as well.  Leave it to this Good-Bad Dad to find a self-serving way of feeding my appetite for college basketball through “near” learning opportunities for my children.

For the last few years, my kids have participated in our family NCAA college basketball pool – in fact, my 8 year-old won the pool a few years ago by riding Louisville to an unlikely championship.  It turns out my son fell in love with the Cardinals during their conference title run.

Louisville won the NCAA national title in 2013.

Louisville won the NCAA national title in 2013.

In defense of the limitless screen-time my kids will get over the weekend, I do aim to make the NCAA tournament educational.

I tell myself that my sons and daughters are learning critical life skills with each bracket selection.

March Madness Lesson #1: Geography

Filling out a bracket provides an opportunity to take an imaginary cross-country road trip.  My kids’ questions during the process prove that geography is not part of an elementary school education. Questions abound from my kids, such as:

“Dad, what state is North Carolina in?”

“Is Iona near Iowa?”

I cannot think of a better way to introduce my daughter to the rich history of the Carolina’s.  If not for the bracket, they may never otherwise learn that Iona is actually located in New Rochelle, New York.

Note this fact led to another question (and subsequent discussion) about New York as a state and city – a concept that my daughter finds unfathomable.  I plan to re-tackle that discussion if N.Y.U. ever gets in the tournament.

March Madness Lesson #2: Greater or Less Than

The quintessential skill of picking a game is really a “greater than-less than” exercise.  An added bonus is that the exercise will require no confusing “alligator” symbols to indicate the larger number.

If my kids have no other preconceived idea regarding the teams playing in the game being picked, they have learned to pick the lowest number as the victor.  Although seemingly simple, the concept of seeding takes some practice for my little geniuses to master.  Their inclination is that a higher number is superior – the opposite of the recipe for a successful bracket in most years.  

The only major exception to this rule is twofold: if the team’s name is (a) the same as a friend’s or (b) is similar to a word that they are otherwise not allowed to say openly.  Examples of such teams in this year’s bracket are Austin Peay (pee), Butler (butt) or Xavier (my 3 year-old’s best bud at daycare).  I will guaranty that my family’s brackets have more wins by these teams than any other bracket that exists.

March Madness Lesson #3: Limitless (or Limited) Loyalty

Every Good-Bad Dad hopes to indoctrinate their kids into the fandom of their own favorite team.  For me, the NCAA tournament brackets provide a test of childhood loyalty to their parent’s team.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an Iowa Hawkeye fan.  That means that until they can wash their own clothes, so are my children.

When it comes to picking games involving our beloved black and gold, my kids are torn between the lessons they’ve learned and the team they root for.  The way each handles this ambiguity is different.

My older two boys will not hesitate to callously pick a higher seed against our team.  In the context of this year, that means they have my Hawkeyes losing to Villanova in their second game.  Their loyalty is trumped by the “greater than-less than” concept already mastered.

My younger kids are different – they are loyal to no end.  In fact, my daughter has Iowa winning the title in her bracket this year.  Although I would applaud her faith and obedience to my house rules, I might temper her expectations.  Either way, the innocence of her limitless loyalty is adorable.

These lessons are proof positive that watching endless college basketball in the coming days can be educational.  Commence the games.  Bring on the bracket-busting!

The time my kids and I  spend filling out brackets or in front of the television will be worthwhile.

The March Madness lessons I’ve shared will create memories that will, without doubt, soften the pain of imminent doom of my Iowa Hawkeyes.

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One Comment

  1. Barb Watson

    Great read Toby! I remember learning so much about world geography by following tennis players and the tourneys they played in.

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