This is undoubtedly my favorite time of year as we embark on America's greatest sporting spectacle. Nothing grips the nation - not the NBA Finals, the World Series, college football's national championship or the Super Bowl - and captures our collective attention for three straight weeks quite like the NCAA Tournament.
Folks who have not watched a single game this year will fill out brackets, cheering and hoping to walk away with a few bucks from their office pool. Some will make their picks based on their favorite mascots or uniform colors, others will center their selections around their favorite schools and players.
Some who've actually watched some NCAA hoops over the years will say something like, "I loved Sean Elliott, Scott Skiles, Kerry Kittles and Sean Singletary in college, that's why I've got Arizona, Michigan State, Villanova and Virginia going to the Final Four."
But they'd probably be lazily lying, simply picking among the higher seeds.
Villanova defeats North Carolina 77-74 thanks to a game winning 3-pointer from Kris Jenkins in the 2016 National Championship game. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.
The more hardcore will be poring over game film, KenPom rankings and advanced metrics to inform their choices.
And once that bracket is filled out, there's an emotional investment.
And whether you want the alma mater to win, or you want to embarrass Bob with the big mouth from marketing as your bracket destroys his, there's no denying that college basketball will reign at the epicenter of the American sporting universe until this year's national champion is crowned on April 2nd in San Antonio.
But a few months ago, college basketball was at the epicenter of America's criminal universe when teams of FBI agents, some wearing bulletproof vests, raided agent Andy Miller's office while simultaneously arresting a financial adviser and an aspiring NBA agent.
Assistant coaches at Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Southern California were also taken into custody, in massive shows of force and under a raging media spotlight, for reportedly accepted cash while agreeing to send players in their direction for representation once they turned pro.
Supposedly, coaches at Louisville, Arizona and Miami had also arranged six-figure payments, through sneaker company executives, for the families of high school recruits in order to get them enrolled in uniform, I mean on campus.
Four assistant coaches at some of the country's elite Division 1 programs are among those arrested and facing federal bribery, fraud and corruption charges after a two-year FBI investigation revealed college coaches taking cash bribes.
It was supposedly the tip of the iceberg of the scandal that would destroy college basketball as we know it, making the NCAA look like innocent bystanders drowning in a cesspool created by black market miscreants, intent on destroying their noble enterprise.
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” said Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, in a statement. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.”
But as the buzzer-beaters start to fall and this year's Cinderella's emerge over the next few weeks, do not fall for the okey doke.
The three-plus-year federal inquiry and subsequent arrests don't stem from true criminality, but from an antiquated and exploitative NCAA rule book that won't allow players, the ones who generate billions of dollars in revenue, from profiting from their labor.
The names of some players and their families will be dragged through the mud, as if they conspired with the Mafia to commit fraud against their respective universities. But in actuality, it's the schools themselves and the NCAA as a whole, that is doing the defrauding.
If you remove the NCAA's bogus rules on amateurism, because there's nothing amateur about the close to $40 million that this year's basketball national champion will generate as a result of them being featured on CBS' One Shining Moment sign off, then where is the actual criminal case?
All of the emotion and excitement of March Madness set to the tune of "One Shining Moment." One Shining Moment, words and music © 1986 David Barrett, (p) 1986-2000 David Barrett. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.
So what we have here is a multi-million dollar effort and years worth of FBI manpower used to empower and prop up the NCAA's bogus rules around their refusal to pay the athletes that generate the revenue, while disallowing them from being compensated for their likeness, doing commercials or merely making a few bucks from their own autographs.
They can't even have someone take them out to dinner without it being an NCAA rules infraction.
The NCAA's got the sweetest cartel going since Pablo Escobar's Medellin operation, with the government's blessing.
So, some sneaker company execs are willing to shell out $100,000 to an elite recruit, hoping that the kid might one day turn into the next LeBron, Kyrie Irving or KD, i.e. a player with cultural currency that could make their signature shoes fly off of shelves, enhancing the company's bloated bottom line.
But based on what the top college players bring into their university's coffers, that $100,000 is a damn bargain.
And my question to the FBI and the NCAA is, how is that player, the sneaker company exec, the assistant coach or whoever else involved in the back alley, black market machinery that's greasing the wheels of the game's underbelly, perpetuating a fraud against the respective universities?
Dan Dakich joins SportsCenter to discuss how a report written by Yahoo! Sports detailing an FBI probe into the NCAA regarding basketball players who allegedly received payments could impact the sport as a whole.
I'm no lawyer, but that seems to be the foundation of the FBI's case. But when looked at in the aggregate, the university is actually benefiting. Isn't it?
And before you look at Louisville having their 2013 national championship banner removed, the NCAA's ruling on that was based on sex parties for recruits organized by an assistant coach, not a play-for-pay arrangement.
In most professional fields, there are things called signing bonuses. And if you don't think these kids are the muscle behind a multi-billion dollar professional enterprise, you probably think that Donald Trump is a swell, stand-up guy and that pro wrestling is real.
The bottom line here is that the FBI investigation is a supreme waste of time and resources, stunningly used to keep college athletes, the majority of them African-American, from receiving a slice of the pie that they bake.
And therein lies the real scandal going on in college basketball. Anyone who tells you otherwise has an agenda.
So as March Madness tips of this week, enjoy the ride.
Watch the extended game highlights of the National Championship game, as North Carolina takes home the trophy! Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.
Here's to your bracket. May it make Bob the big mouth from marketing shut the hell up once his Final Four teams don't make it out of the second round.
Enjoy the Cinderella's, the buzzer beaters and unlikely heroes who will forever be legends on campus thanks to what happens over the next few weeks.
Relish and savor the spectacle of the NCAA Tournament.
But don't lose sight of what's really going down behind the scenes. Don't believe the hype being sold on this so-called shocking scandal. And always count the money.
Because the real scandal is not the crumbs being offered to a few players.
It's that the FBI is helping the NCAA to defraud the labor force whose talent and exploits feeds everyone else, except themselves.
And the NCAA is hell-bent on keeping it that way.