In a television universe where ratings are king, the 2012 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament is busting viewing records (along with more than a few brackets). In fact, March 15 saw more people tuned in than any other day of first-round competition since 1991, when the tournament expanded.
Unfortunately, a more-accurate snapshot of how many Americans are watching may never be known--think of the restaurants, bars, college dormitories and airport lounges where scores of people huddle around one television set when the NCAA's are on. Plus, remember that the wall-to-wall games begin mid-morning and continue deep into the evening. Then, consider that 10 days of nonstop action is stretched out over two-and-a-half weeks. Ultimately, you've got a juggernaut that swamps everything on the tube--the World Series, the Oscars, and, yes, even the Super Bowl.
What makes this year's ratings success even more impressive is that early in the tournament, no teams from the Mountain or Pacific time zones advanced. That represents nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, yet viewership remained high.
The tournament's true greatness stems from a head-spinning dervish of upsets, heartbreak and triumph than can't be scripted, let alone predicted. Pound for pound, the quality of play guarantees that the madness will be with us for generations to come.
Who among the Final Four--Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State--will take it all? It almost doesn't matter. My bracket (and I'm guessing yours) was busted a week ago. But it's still must-see TV.