An Unqualified Masters in Bracketology

By Jason Menard

It’s March Madness again and, like many of you, I’ve filled out my brackets and eagerly check on the scores to see how my picks are faring.

Also, like many of you, I have no idea what I’m doing.

There are 64 teams in the NCAA tournament and I’m hard-pressed to name any of the players. Not one. In fact, I can only name a handful of coaches. Yet, I sat down and actually thought about my picks, justifying them in my mind, before committing them to paper. I am in three – count ‘em – three on-line pools! But, to be fair, all of them are free.

I may be delusional, but I’m not crazy.

It’s all just a crapshoot. For the most part, the big favourites end up winning, the Final Four is comprised of at least a couple of number-one seeds, and the world keeps spinning on its axis. And, you know what, I’ll probably do fairly well with my picks.

On the other hand, when it comes to picking sports that I do know, I’m abysmal. I’ve tried ProLine-ing hockey and all I end up doing is making a donation to the lottery fund. I consider myself well-versed in the Canadian Football League, but my annual foray into a prediction pool ends up finding me drowning half-way through.

NHL playoff pools? Football fantasy? Basketball rotisserie? All met with varying degrees of success. But NCAA? I’m in it to win it each year.

NCAA Pools pop up everywhere both in offices and on-line. The Final Four tournament is one of those events that even non-sports fans can appreciate. Like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, these are bandwagon events that have enough room for everyone to jump on. And because there’s a structure to the event people can easily get involved in the game.

And get in the game we do. The best part about participating in these pools is when you watch those self-important few, who can name the starting five of all the NIT-level schools blow a gasket over the guy who lets his three-year-old pick the results ending up winning the pool. The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that anyone can win it and there’s just no rhyme or reason most of the time.

One serendipitous game. That’s all it takes for a one-seed to fall by the wayside in the first weekend. A couple of unlucky bounces one way and a hot hand going the other and the favourite is watching along with the rest of us. It’s that one-and-out finality that draws us to the games. This isn’t a long, slow build-up, like most fantasy pools – this is instant gratification at its finest.

What’s great is the liberating feeling that one has picking these brackets. I know about as much about the Final Four as I do about the Bolivian election. The only difference is that I have an opinion on the NCAA tournament – and it matters just as much as the guy whose life is dedicated to catching college hoops on the tube.

Overall, it’s shocking how much most of us who fill out these brackets don’t know about college hoops. Not that I’m advocating ignorance, but I’m just as happy not knowing. I have my sports of interest and college basketball isn’t one of them. However, when it comes to events of interest, the Final Four is right up there.

In truth, what I know about college hoops is pretty much restricted to the things I hate about it: Duke (although I really don’t know why I hate them, they just seem to elicit this feeling) and Dick Vitale (and I do know why I hate them.) That’s about it. I read a great biography of Michigan’s Fab Five once – does that count?

I enjoy basketball at its highest level – the NBA. And, while I appreciate the dedication and talent of these *cough* student *cough* athletes, for the most part I’m not invested in their fortunes. I can’t tell my Iona from my Gonzaga, but I’ve picked one of them to make it to the Final Four!

So, when the end of the tournament finally comes, I’ll be checking with interest to see who cuts down the nets. And, although I may not recognize the player, I’ll sure be smiling if the team is in my bracket.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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