Let the games begin! We’re only to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen and already there’s a winner — and what a Cinderella story it turns out to be. After all, the TV ratings are up 4% for the first rounds of March Madness, those days when the basketball games simply stumble and tumble on top of each other, morning to night, all weekend long and beyond, bursting the bounds of CBS TV and heading into other ad universes, streaming on-line while the advertisers (Dell, Courtyard by Marriott, AT&T, E*Trade, Microsoft, Sonic restaurants, and Pontiac, among others) stream after them. And inside the ads are even more “games” like, for example, the Sonic video ad in which “viewers can click through to a game where they can fling tator tots into a guy’s mouth.” Throw in your basic office or college betting pool; add in the perhaps $7 billion in March Madness wagers (more than for the Super Bowl) and all those crowds heading not for the courtside seats, but directly for Vegas; stir in oodles of frenetic rooting and there’s no end to the fun until April 2 when it does all end with the last team standing and — always -– the possibility of a ratings-trumping “Cinderella upset.”

Actually, I’m not thinking about some smaller team winning the tournament — it’s already impossible — but CBS itself. It’s the real rags-to-riches (or is it riches-to-riches?), glass-slipper, Cinderella tale of this tournament, ditching its regular programming only to ride to ratings dominance. In a mere five years, it’s turned the NCAA’s college tournament into a corporate carnival that “generates more advertising sales than any other postseason sporting event including the Super Bowl.”

This year, the network is expected to take in $500 million in ad revenue from TV alone, up a staggering 70% from 2000. Call it a slam dunk for CBS.