At the supple age of 23 I started making an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas every March with a group of close friends. When we planned that first trip, we were just kind of taking a shot in the dark.
“The first weekend of March Madness seems to have the most—and usually the craziest—games, let’s try that.”
And for the next seven years, we assumed we had nailed it from the very beginning. Who wouldn’t want to be in Vegas—in a sportsbook full of giant TVs, free drinks and other
degenerate gamblers diehard sports fans—while the most mind-blowing playoffs in all of sports was going on.
Forty-eight do-or-die games in four days. Simultaneously bouncing back and forth between your bets and your bracket. Waking up at 8:30am (games start at 9:15am on Vegas Standard Time) even though you didn’t go to sleep until 5am. It was the perfect weekend.
And then, because of a wedding that several of us in the group had to attend last year on that very weekend (a wedding that damn well better last a lifetime), we changed the tradition and visited the Mecca of bad decisions on Conference Championship Weekend instead.
Do you know how many games there are over the four-day period on Championship Weekend?
That’s not a typo.
Do you know how many fewer people descend on Vegas for Championship Weekend compared to that first weekend of March Madness?
67% fewer. (rough estimate)
From a crowd standpoint, you’re pretty much never waiting for anything during Championship Weekend, but during March Madness, your waits look like this:
- At least 20 minutes for the cab line when you first arrive at the airport
- Another 20 minutes to check into your hotel room. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in that concierge line while getting a constant whiff of that sweet gambling smell from across the hall
- Showing up at the sports book at the ungodly hour of 7am just to secure seats for the 9am tip-offs
- Up to a 30-minute line every time you want to place a new bet or cash in a winning ticket
- Getting laughed at by the host when you show up at a restaurant with 10 guys and without a reservation at 9pm on a weekend night
- And yes, another 20 minutes or so for the cab line to finally escape your hotel on that Sunday morning
When you consider the amount of games and the emptiness of the city, Championship Weekend becomes a no-brainer, right?
We all agreed. So we returned this year for that same weekend. And though most of us walked away losers from a betting standpoint, we were basically stroking each other’s hard-ons the entire time over how smart we were to have finally figured out the right weekend.
This group has progressed in nine years from “the single, immature college guys who party way too hard all weekend” to “the slightly more mature (and less single) guys who party way too hard but are also dangerously addicted to sports gambling” to “the old married men who look strikingly like those people addicted to horse race betting.”
Part of me wonders if it’s just that progression into grumpy old man status that’s got us wanting the less crazy weekend.
Fast forward to this past Thursday and instantly my smugness over choosing the right weekend disappeared quicker than you can say “buzzer beater.” I was one of the many chumps stuck at his desk while the first set of Tourney games was under way. Sure, thanks to the beauty of technology I could watch all the games on my computer, but it just wasn’t the same.
First Dayton and Harvard pulled off incredible upsets, then Uconn, St. Louis and North Dakota State all won crazy overtime games in the span of forty minutes, and finally Texas escaped Arizona State’s upset bid with a ludicrous buzzer-beating layup.
Yep, there aren’t nearly as many games over the whole day as Championship Weekend, but these games mean more. There’s no question of whether or not the teams that are NCAA Tournament locks are taking it easy and resting guys. Every close game is ratcheted up 10 notches in intensity because someone’s season (and possibly many players’ careers) will come to an abrupt end.
When last night ended with the ultimate tease in Manhattan’s near upset of Louisville followed by New Mexico State’s jaw-dropped heroics to take San Diego State to overtime, I started chain smoking cigars, googling “underground blackjack tables Los Angeles” and walking around in public double-fisting 24oz light beers. It just felt right.
Several of my Vegas cohorts wouldn’t dare go back to the original March Madness weekend for our trip, and that’s fine. I love everything about basketball in Vegas so much that I’m perfectly OK with going back for Conference Championship Weekend ever year. The only decision left for me? Do I move the planned date of asking my girlfriend to marry me from “as soon as a 16 seed beats a one seed” to “immediately” so I can use the bachelor party next year as an excuse to be in Vegas for the 11 days spanning both these incredible basketball weekends?
I doubt there’s enough medicine in the world to get me back to normal after a trip like that.
The nostalgia will be even sadder on Friday, as I root for Duke to lose from my office…a group of 300 strangers cheering like crazy for whichever underdog is facing Duke was always my favorite part of March Madness weekend.
That settles it. Next year, I rent out a place in Vegas for the entire month of March.