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The return of 'March Madness' with some modified nostalgia

Xs and Arrows

NCAA conference basketball tournaments, although radically modified this year, are underway and in most cases completed across the country as the field for the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments get completed.

Obviously, things are different this season with nearly all conference tournaments canceled or stopped mid-way last year because of COVID-19 mandated lockdowns and stay-at-home orders halting play and eventually the NCAA basketball tournament in 2020. A year later we are still dealing with the impact of that virus all the while finding unique ways to return to normal.

I was a part of four conference tournaments during my time as a basketball announcer for Cal State Bakersfield and a couple others during my own college days on the airwaves. The first four or so years during my CSUB tenure were during our Division II days sans a conference tournament, then for the next six years we played as a Division I independent, a long journey to eventually get into the Western Athletic Conference.

The first years of the conference basketball tournament were a fun experience. Although we were not a serious contender, we made the second round a few times before being eliminated. But the buzz in Las Vegas with several conferences holding championships simultaneously was palpable. Eventually we caught some lightning in a bottle as a program and in 2016 won the WAC men's tournament with the still-famous buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off the dominant New Mexico State Aggies and punch our own ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

It was a great time for the student-athletes, and fun but exhausting for those of us who had multiple responsibilities with the team, including the media relations storm that came after seeing our name called on "Selection Sunday" and the onslaught of NCAA requests leading up to the first round. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but it just was not in the cards. There were many who were along for the ride and the rest of us actually doing the work, but in the end, I know I earned my championship ring.

Following the conference tournaments this year, the NCAA Tournaments will be held in one location with all qualifying men's teams heading to greater Indianapolis for every round of the tournament in response to COVID-19. The women's tournament meanwhile will be held in San Antonio, Texas. Usually, you get sent to a different location for each round outside of the first two; this year it is one spot and several different arenas. That was the case back in 2000 when I participated in the NAIA National men's basketball tournament with Point Loma Nazarene University. The NAIA back then ran the entire tournament out of one building in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we didn't see much of Tulsa and were on a quick turnaround following an early loss. So this concept isn't foreign, just an older idea seeing new light in the wake of the world we live in.

So, there will not be the same amount of chaotic yet rewarding travel during the NCAA Tournament this year, just 68 teams heading to either Indianapolis or San Antonio with those teams dwindling by the day as the field gets smaller. As with everything with COVID-19, it will be different but interesting by the same token.

I catch a little "March Madness" around this time every year. You might catch me around town wearing my 2016 conference championship ring with the NCAA Tournament logo on the side or my matching watch given as a gift by the tournament committee to each participant. I'm grateful to have experienced what few ever will. I will never forget those magical days in March, no matter how tough the work was; as with anything, the reward was far greater.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. He can be reached at [email protected]. Read more content at http://www.CostelloeMedia.com.