March Madness is gone, at least this year — and with it went the tradition of filling out brackets, placing bets, trash talking and friendly competition.
Like most sports events around the country, the NCAA Tournament was canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease spread by the novel coronavirus. Illinois has reported more than 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus, including a Loyola student.
But now, college basketball fans have found ways to fill the void left by the cancelation of March Madness. Instead of choosing which teams will make it to each round, they’re pitting The Office characters, Little Debbie snacks and music artists against each other in brackets inspired by the usual NCAA Tournament brackets.
Sports networks and organizations are doing their part to keep fans busy. A simulated tournament on ESPN shows how the real March Madness could have ended up. Radio hosts at 670 The Score, a popular Chicago sports talk radio station, are urging fans to vote on their favorite sports movies in lieu of an actual tournament.
The NCAA put together a bracket of past March Madness moments for fans to vote on — including three gems from Loyola’s 2018 season. Former Rambler Clayton Custer’s lucky bounce on a midrange jump shot that propelled Loyola into the Sweet Sixteen in 2018 is featured in that bracket.
“To be included on that bracket is unbelievable because that’s literally all the coolest moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament,” Custer said.
Jonah Blatt, a loyal Rambler fan whose hopes of repeating the Loyola men’s basketball team’s 2018 Cinderella run disappeared with a loss to Valparaiso University in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, has found ways to simulate March Madness.
Blatt, who’s known for donning a pope hat at Loyola home games, has filled out a bracket for the best fast food chains in the U.S. Custer said he doesn’t pay much attention to brackets about things other than basketball, but he had a hunch for the fast food winner.
“I would definitely pick Chick-Fil-A to win the national championship,” Custer said.
Aside from choosing the best burger and fries in the nation, Blatt has even followed a video game simulation of the tournament on Reddit.
But he said it doesn’t quite make up for losing the tournament.
“We’re all aware this is a terrible situation but we’re making the best of it,” said Blatt, a Loyola senior. “It’s there, it’s nice that it’s there, but it’s not the same.”
He said since Loyola classes have been moved online and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order, his days have felt “like watching paint dry.” The different brackets are a way to pass the time, the 22-year-old anthropology major said.
For Blatt, there’s a silver lining with the tournament being canceled — Bradley University didn’t get to see the court at March Madness despite being the MVC Tournament champ.
“The only bright side is that Bradley winning the MVC meant nothing, and that made me very happy,” Blatt said.