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Bemidji State basketball coach Bowen has experience with NCAA Tournament

"March Madness" is a term that was created by NCAA basketball marketers to describe the frenzy of the annual Division I tournament, and through the years the moniker has proven to be an accurate description of how the public has embraced the event.

"The madness comes from games being played from 11 a.m. to midnight and from the excitement created by all of the buzzer beaters and end-of-game situations," said Bemidji State University men's basketball coach Matt Bowen.

Bowen has first-hand experience of the tournament and the madness it creates. He has been in the seats for 21 Final Fours and had a front-row view of the 1992 Final Four when he was a student manager at Indiana.

During his five years at Indiana and his coaching stints at Alabama-Birmingham and Valparaiso, Bowen also helped guide teams to the tournament each year, advancing to the Sweet 16 each season, gaining the Elite 8 twice and the Final Four once.

"I've been spoiled rotten," Bowen said of his March Madness experiences. "As a coach and student manager we were at the tournament so often that I personally got to know the people from CBS," he added, pointing to photographs on his office wall of Greg Gumbel, who orchestrates the network's tournament coverage, and Lesley Visser, who was one of the reporters covering the event.

Not every NCAA tournament game has been noteworthy, but fans never know when another nail-biter is in the offing. And that is what makes the tournament so captivating.

"There have been thousands of games during the last 30 years of the tournament, but the ones that are imprinted on your mind are the ones where the underdog wins," Bowen said. "America loves the underdog. How can you not get excited when you watch young kids jumping around after the upset.

"Every year a new character comes along," Bowen continued. "I can remember when no one knew who Gonzaga was. I coached at Valparaiso for a few years and if you know Valparaiso you will remember Bryce Drew's NCAA tournament buzzer-beater which beat Ole Miss in 1998. That is why the casual fan watches the tournament."

And fans do watch. A survey by Kelton Research revealed that 51 percent of working Americans are involved in a tournament bracket pool at their workplace. The percentage would be higher except that 49 percent of the people responding to the poll said that pools are strictly prohibited by their employers.

While following the tournament can provide entertainment, the fun is countered by a lack of productivity, according to the pollsters.

The data indicates that 55 percent of the nation's workforce spends time during the day talking about the games instead of working. Monitoring the games on television or on a computer instead of focusing on the job is the habit of 47 percent of the workforce and 21 percent leave early to watch the games.

Coming to work late is the custom of 19 percent of the workforce, and 17 percent don't bother to come in at all, claiming to be sick.

Of those who make it to the office, 18 percent make mistakes because they are concentrating on basketball instead of the tasks at hand, according to the survey.

Bowen understands the fascination the public has for the tournament and each year he looks forward to March Madness.

"The way the national media treats college basketball, for the casual fan the season doesn't start until after the Super Bowl and at this time of the year basketball dominates," the coach said. "This is a wonderful time of the year. The tournament may not be the Super Bowl but it has become a destination sporting event. March Madness has become a national phenomenon."

Who will win this year is anybody's guess. Bowen has his opinion and, because of his coaching background and familiarity with the nation's programs, his viewpoints are worth listening to.

Bowen will be among those glued to the television sets this week, but don't ask him for advice filling out your pool. NCAA regulations prohibit a basketball coach from making predictions.

"It's a great time of the year for me," Bowen said. "Starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday I'll be someplace where I can watch basketball on four TVs."

March Madness has struck. And you can count Bowen among the victims.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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