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HBS Madness over March Madness

As I already start thinking about how I will fill out my bracket for March Madness, I decided to reflect I why the tournament is loved by a 5’7″ business school student who has no basketball ability. I will attempt to explain why I no doubt be glued to my television for about three weeks straight putting little effort into other seemingly less important things like career searches and cases.
For those of you who are not familiar, I am referring to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) National Championship tournament. This annual event matches the top 64 college basketball teams into four regions for a single elimination, winner-take-all tournament.

So, a business school perspective on what makes the tourney so special . . .

Competition – Professor Porter would be proud. This is capitalism in its purest form. The teams are the buyers, the court is the market, and the score is the price. High price gets the sale.

Linux CAN beat Microsoft. Yes in this world, the strong fall and the underdogs can thrive. Two years ago Gonzaga, a small school in Spokane, Washington knocked off three higher-seeded teams in a row. Heck, even Navy had a chance to advance last year (I think I would have been the star on the Navy team – Go Army).
Efficient Markets. There are no market inefficiencies here. The one who can best prognosticate the tournament wins the cash. Of course gambling on the HBS campus is as uncommon as using Napster. However, everywhere else in the nation people will hedge their last five bucks on the hope that Michigan State will beat Stanford in the finals.

Nail biters. You haven’t seen this kind of excitement since the Baylor Lumber working capital calculation. Over the past ten years 53% of all tournament games are decided by four points or less.

Kaizen. Just wait until the starting forward misses a couple of free throws. You will see the coach promptly “pull the andon cord” followed by the player pulling the towel over his head on the bench. If only Polaroid could learn to handle quality problems so quickly and efficiently.
Only one. In the end, only one will stand. Why wait to see what happens between Coke and Pepsi, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or RyanAir and Go? Just tune in at the end of the month and watch the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

March 12, 2001
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