I’m a senior in high school, a few months out from leaving for college, and so everything these days takes on a bit of an added significance. It’s my last Saint Patrick’s Day at home! Am I ever going to eat Sunday brunch at Millie’s again? Will I finally make it to Griffith Observatory? And now, I’m realizing that March Madness is never going to be the same. I love the basketball, but what I love even more is everything that goes along with it. Namely, the age-old game of watching March Madness in class.
It’s been a problem from the moment it was first offered online in 2006. Well, some might call it a problem. I’d have to disagree with that assessment. Watching March Madness in class is—as I’m sure my art teacher would agree—an art. The beauty is in not getting caught.
It’s no surprise that students watch March Madness when they’re supposed to be studying. Mix together restless teenagers, world-class sports and the opportunity to harmlessly stretch the rules, and I think it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get.
Offices have all the same problems as schools like mine, Harvard-Westlake. All across the country, people are pulled from their work to follow the games. One study found that $1.9 billion was lost in 2015 due to a drop in productivity during the month of March, time that could’ve been spent on reports or sales was instead filled with brackets and Cinderella stories.
The annual college tournament can be streamed for free through March Madness Live (or March Madness On Demand, as it was first named). At first, it was only available on computers, and students made due. They found excuses to have computers open in classes, migrated to the last row, and enjoyed the games. But 2010 was a watershed moment for the art form. The service was launched as an app on smartphones. There was suddenly an entirely new way to follow the competition during a lecture, and it fit right in a pocket.
My friend and fellow March Madness fiend Andrew Berg summed it up pretty well: “If you’re going to pay for an education, you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re at it.”
Everyone has their preferred way of sneaking some hoops. The easiest and consequently most common, is to use a computer. It’s simple: open a computer, pretend like you’re taking notes while you’re really just streaming the games.
“Take some notes, watch some games,” a classmate told me. “You don’t get caught. It’s foolproof.”
My personal favorite is the old phone-on-the-lap trick. I’ve been a proponent of it since my days as a seventh-grade March Madness in class watching virgin. This one is simple as well. Just pull the game up on your phone, and put it in your lap. Then, get a notebook or whatever else you’d normally have on your desk, and slide them close to you. Pretend to be looking at what you’re writing or reading, but really, look past it, below it, into your lap and the glorious basketball being broadcast there.
“One day this year, there were two close games on at the same time,” another classmate (who didn’t want me to use his name, because, as I said before, it’s all about not getting caught) said. “I had the laptop going on the desk, the phone on my lap, and I got to watch them both. It was perfect.”
Most of the time, those strategies work. But the true artists don’t settle for what has been done or what they know will work. They keep innovating. Over my time at school, I’ve seen kids disappear for 30 minute bathroom breaks every day in March, although that may have been the result of enchilada day in the cafeteria. I’ve seen impassioned students plead with their teacher to let them broadcast the game onto the classroom projector. “We’re not going to pay attention anyway,” the student said. The teacher agreed, and we watched for the rest of the day’s class.
Then there are the truly impassioned. A book with pages cut out that fit a phone. The kid who, after his teacher ordered all laptops and phones to be put out of reach, put his phone in his backpack, resting it just right so that he and only he could see the game streaming inside his bag. A clip that went viral this year showed a student—not from Harvard-Westlake, but a high schooler nonetheless—who had duct taped his phone to the back of the kid sitting in front of him. When there’s not a TV in front of you, you have to make one. That’s the beauty of March.
Others don’t even bother with elaborate set-ups. I remember somebody during freshman year who didn’t come to school on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament. He wanted an HD TV and good sound.
Of course, spending class time watching March Madness isn’t exactly the most…studious use of time. It could be distracting to other students, it’s disrespectful to the teacher, and it isn’t going to lead to many A’s. A few teachers take it upon themselves to police it. Some walk around the class, all the way to the back to make sure nobody is streaming games. Others simply ban computers on days when there are games.
“It makes me smile,” my school’s president Rick Commons said, “as long as the teachers are smiling.”
But even when teachers take every precaution, students find a way to watch their basketball. I would argue that this is what makes March Madness so unique, and it’s one of the things I’m going to miss most about high school. One of the only things.
Harvard-Westlake is in nearly every other way an abnormal school. Where distracting the teacher might be an everyday occurrence elsewhere, it’s rare for us. At least not until those few days in March. It’s two days that allow us to live clichés. Two days to work on our ingenuity. Two days to develop the important life skill of multi-tasking. Distracting? Maybe. But that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Even Harvard-Westlake needs a little madness every now and then. There are lots of lessons to learn from that too.