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I Loathe Bracketology: A Screed

For the Love of Dick Vitale’s Soul, Retire the Word “Bracketology”

My son, Max, at the NCAA first round action in 2021.

Look, I love the NCAA Tournament as much as anyone.

I drove to Indianapolis last year and watched Arkansas beat Colgate, then sat a mile away (at what point are you so far up in the stands that you can no longer say you were there?) in Lucas Oil Stadium to watch Baylor win its first-round game.

I remember the days before ESPN, when no one televised the first two rounds because, well, who cares about those dead-wood games? I remember when ESPN bought the rights and immediately turned the first two days into a sensation, then CBS took the rights back and tried to ruin the experience by breaking to advertisements during those interminable time-outs at the end of games instead of switching to other tight games (like ESPN had done).

I was in a bar by myself, waiting for my girlfriend (now wife) to get out of classes, when Princeton nearly beat Georgetown in 1989 and I tried to explain to her why I was so drunk on a Thursday afternoon (“It wush in in incredible”).

I’ve been gambling on the Tournament since 1835.

But I hate Bracketology.

For the Love of Dick Vitale’s Soul, Retire the Word “Bracketology”

First, there’s the term.

Good writing uses two classes of words: words that are part of accepted usage and creative words (that, anyway, is how I read Orwell in his classic essay). Then there’s a torrent of “dying metaphors” and other flotsam that is neither.

It’s the latter that needs to be avoided by the good writer.

I realize slogans may not qualify as literature, but they should at least pretend to be what good literature is: well-crafted and creative. So, if a slogan is new and creative: launch it. If it’s part of the accepted language: employ it.

But if it’s neither, ditch it.

“Bracketology” is too stupid to become part of the English language, and it’s more than 20 years old so it’s no longer new and creative.

Just ditch it.

The Bracket is a Racket

Second, the bracket sucks.

I’ve filled out more brackets than a baby fills diapers, but I’ve never understood them. Yeah, yeah, I know: “You get one point for a first-round win, two for a second . . . “. Sure, but I have no idea what the hell is going on with the rest of the pool.

“Oh, crap, I had Gonzaga going to the Final Four and now they’re going to lose! My bracket is busted!”

Or is it? Maybe other people had them winning it all. Maybe not. Maybe the dude who presciently picked Gonzaga to lose in the second round also picked Norfolk State to win it all and they’re losing by 100 at the half.

There are simply too many contingencies, cross-contingencies, and counter-contingencies to know what games really matter to you during that first long weekend of play.

Now, once the bracket thins out to 16 teams? Then the brackets start to get interesting. But during those first (oh so glorious) two days of play? Forget about it. The bracket is virtually meaningless.

The Online Brackets Require a Three-Credit College Course

Alright, that headline is a gross exaggeration. It’s not that hard to figure out the online brackets, but let me recount my experience with the CBS online bracket. Bullet points:

  1. Get invite from an old friend to join his bracket. Sigh, grimace. Put it off.
  2. Out of affection and respect, I accept the invite.
  3. CBS asks for email and password.
  4. I spend four minutes looking for my password and, somewhat miraculously, find it.
  5. CBS says my email and password don’t match.
  6. Double-check everything and try again. Another rejection.
  7. I try to register, but CBS tells me that email is already in use (I could’ve told them that), and, no, I don’t want to deal with password recovery because I freakin’ wrote it down last year and am positive I have it right.
  8. CBS invites me to use my Google account.
  9. My mind starts racing: how much of my s*** is Google going to steal from me and give to George Soros? Do I care? What s***?”
  10. I use my Google account anyway.
  11. I fumble through pop-up ads and find the bracket. I fill it out (this part is nifty, by the way . . . the click-add feature of the online brackets is commendable).
  12. I submit.
  13. But first: Do I want to register for free prizes!? No.
  14. Am I sure? Yes.
  15. Bracket submitted.

Success? I honestly don’t know. I know my friend set up two brackets that I could join. The CBS site never asked me which one I was joining. I think my bracket is just floating out there, maybe so I can show it to my kids and grandkids years down the road when it comes back perfect and I didn’t win anything because I couldn’t figure out the site.

Bottom line is, I spent 15 minutes on this thing and, even if I got it submitted, will have virtually no idea which games matter to me Thursday afternoon.

A Better Suggestion

I don’t want to write a screed like this without giving readers a better option, so here’s mine:

Auction off the teams with family and friends.

I can’t go into all the details, but I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it’s wildly popular with participants.

Get a few guys together (six is the “sweet spot,” but anything more than one works). Provide food and beer. Auction off each team, starting at some ridiculously-low amount (we start with a nickel). If a team you buy wins a game, you get money back. If a team you buy wins it all, you make a lot of money. (For the prying-eyes record: “money” here means “toothpicks”; no one is engaged in illegal gambling. . . it’s all funzies)

Mathematically, it works in sevenths:

The 16 teams that lose in the second round split up 1/7th of the pot;

The 8 teams that lose in the third round split 1/7th;

The 4 teams that lose in the Great Eight split 1/7th;

The 2 teams that lose in the Semis split 1/7th;

The team that loses in the Finals gets 1/7th;

The champion gets 2/7ths.

The sixteen seeds normally go for about ten cents. The one seeds for $75 or so.

My goal every year is to walk away with about ten teams. Because I don’t like to lose a lot of toothpicks, I get a lot of low seeds. The carnage is great those first two days, but I normally get one or two cheap buys into the second or third rounds and I always get a little extra excitement on a few games.

If I buy Vermont, I know that a win will net me X toothpicks. It doesn’t matter what someone else did with Vermont. It’s just me and the Catamounts. I find myself cheering like an alumnus.

And never, ever, do I have to participate in “Bracketology.”