The most wonderful time of the year is finally upon us.

It is a time of great triumphs and bitter defeats, a time of wonder and awe, a time of absolute shock and disbelief, a time of the year when businesses lose over a billion dollars in productivity.

I’m talking, of course, about March Madness, the only disease that people look forward to contracting.

For me, this year, like most years, is bittersweet — sweet because Gonzaga, where my wife attended law school, is a No. 1 seed; bitter because my alma mater, the mighty Eastern Washington University, is not in at all. In fact, Eastern has only played in one NCAA tournament, and it was my freshman year of college.

Why do people care?

But what does it matter? Why do so many people care so much about this tournament? What is the draw? Why is this the only sporting event — outside of the Super Bowl — where people who do not follow the sport can instantly become enraptured in the proceedings?

Because the NCAA tournament epitomizes America.

That’s right.

Once you make the field of 68, you are six wins away from the national title. Six wins — anybody can win six games in a row.

And everybody in the tournament has a chance at winning. There is no Bowl Championship Series garbage to determine who should play. There are no voting panels putting together the championship game. This championship is decided on the court.

So how does this epitomize America?

Think about what you have been hearing your entire life, what you have probably told your children.

You have been told you can be whoever you want to be, because in this country, anyone can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

It’s a beautiful thing, and the NCAA tournament is the same way.

Any school can win

Sure, like in real life, the better funded, bigger institutions have an advantage, but that doesn’t stop a school like Butler going to back-to-back title games. I’d never heard of Butler before its team did that. In fact, before those tournament runs, Butler’s basketball team was most famous for playing in the gym where “Hoosiers” was filmed.

Look at Gonzaga. A small, private Jesuit school located in Spokane, Wash. Its campus is smaller than 90 percent of the other schools in the tournament.

But Gonzaga has a shot of doing something amazing, as did a kid from Copperas Cove named Robert Griffin III, who graduated from Baylor as an academic all-American, won the Heisman and was named rookie of the year in the National Football League this year.

These are the stories that fascinate us because these are the stories of the little guy or school making it to the big stage and dominating.

What’s more American than that?

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