The National Pastime

March 18, 1995

Welcome to the teams competing here in the East Regional draw of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's basketball tournament. The city is glad to be part of what some observers of the sports and social scene believe has become the national pastime.

It indisputably is that every Spring, when the colleges engage in the long, tense, one-loss-and-you're-out NCAA tournament that has come to be called "March Madness." Brokers have been offering tickets for today's sold-out double header at the Baltimore Arena for $300. No telling what scalpers are getting. The month-long tournament is popular with couch potatoes, too. So popular that CBS was willing to pay a billion dollars for seven years' rights to the NCAA men's tournament. For six straight years now, the NCAA basketball championship game has attracted more television viewers than the most-watched college football bowl game of the year.

College basketball may be the national pastime summer, fall and winter, too. It draws almost as many spectators each year as college football and not far below the number for professional baseball. But where basketball really lays a claim to being America's game is in participation. There are literally millions more young men shooting hoops and dreaming dreams on playgrounds and in gyms than there are recreational players on gridirons and diamonds. In 1992, according to the Census Bureau, there were 20.5 million basketball players, 12.5 million baseball players and 11.7 million football players.

And that's just the men.

Women's basketball is booming, too. There were 7.6 million women basketball players in 1992, about three times the number of women baseball players (the number of women football players was negligible). The women's game, thanks to the Civil Rights Act, has gotten greater resources at colleges. Thus the level of the game has greatly improved in recent years, and attendance at NCAA regularly scheduled women's games and tournaments has risen steadily.

Baltimore is enriched by being a part of all that this year. We wish our arena could have been the place from which the University of Maryland men's team began its march to the "Final Four" showdown in Seattle April 1 and 3. The luck of the draw has the Terps opening out West. They are good enough this year to aspire to the ultimate success, and we will be rooting for them to go all the way.

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