Upsets and underdogs in March Madness



As the Saint Peter’s Peacocks enter the NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight, they are being rooted as the ‘underdog’ team in the tournament.

ABIGAIL SAATHOFF, Opinion Columnist

This year, March Madness fans have been able to see the most incredible and astounding upsets in March Madness history. Baylor losing, St. Peters going to the Elite Eight, Gonzaga losing, etc. With the month coming to a close and March Madness reaching the Elite Eight, it is the perfect time to truly evaluate why we love big upsets so much, even if they destroy our brackets.

Like every other March Madness fan in the world, I created my bracket hoping that all of my selected teams would win, but after the first upset, I suddenly seemed to forget what teams I was cheering for, and was all for a big upset. Sports Psychologist Chelsi Day states that, “Because most of us have never competed in sports at a high level, we relate more with the underdog than the powerhouse, so it’s nice to see the little guy win. It gives us hope that we can do big things if we try hard enough if we have grit and perseverance.”

I’ve found myself particularly entranced by the St. Peter’s Peacocks who have so far upset Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue to reach the Elite Eight, and play University of North Carolina (UNC) tonight for a place in the Final Four. Even more interesting; none of the Peacocks players were ranked out of high school and come out of a school with less than 2,500 students, making them the ultimate underdog. Even more so; the Peacocks are the first 15 seed in history to reach the Elite Eight. Because of their nature as an underdog in the tournament, I found myself cheering them on passionately as if they were my own team. I’ve even found myself learning the names of the players and following them on social media.

In a study by Frazier and Snyder, they found that fans favored the underdog about 88.1% of the time compared to the ‘better’ team. The appeal of the underdog is the same reason we love movies like “Rocky,” “Miracle” and “The Blind Side.” These movies, just like these games, are related to the average person and make our hearts sing with content when the underdog wins.

But, the reason we love these big upsets and the underdog isn’t just because it’s reliable and makes it feel good, but something called “Schadenfreude” according to Day. This word means the feeling of pleasure we get from the misfortune of others. Something about seeing teams like Baylor, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Arizona and Purdue lose games against higher seeds after winning all season, brings me the slightest bit of joy. I couldn’t even hide my excitement when Gonzaga lost, despite the fact that I had Gonzaga winning one of my brackets.

So as you finish watching March Madness, and see who reaches the final, here’s a reminder to remember why you love that upset so much, so you can enjoy it just a little bit more.