The Many Ways of March Madness: An Ode to Brackets

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The Many Ways of March Madness: An Ode to Brackets
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Good luck filling this baby out.

How do you bracket? March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  But somewhere in the middle of the month there’s madness.  Four days of madness.  These are four days to set your college basketball bracket.  The time has come to strategize, pick the games, and hope for the best.  I’m writing to salute all the different ways that we enjoy the NCAA basketball tournament.

There’s the traditional, old school approach.  One bracket, paper only, no pools.  I used this mainly when I was younger, cutting out a bracket from the newspaper and yelling at the TV when Mississippi State couldn’t win the title in 1996.  This technique is arguably the most noble of all bracket managing.  You’re only competing with yourself, there’s no bragging rights and no cash prize.  Hope for a perfect bracket that you can frame and show to your kids in the future when there are over 200 teams in the tournament.

Grab that piece of paper, fold it up many times and hold it close to you or in your pocket.  You’re probably going to be marking it up with plenty of ink once the games begin.  And hopefully you won’t have torn it up by the end of the first weekend.

There are the office pool diehards.  While the debate is still out on whether March Madness is good or bad for office productivity, there’s no question that everyone will have a second job on Thursday.  Gather around the water cooler and smile that you’re the only one who had James Madison going to the Sweet 16.  Frustrated with your job?  Hate your boss?  What better revenge than watching his bracket implode while you’re on the way to the title?

The internet bracketologists are up next.  They throw around words like Giant Killer, RPI and mid-major while discussing their strategy.  The rise of technology and new media has only added ways for them to spend more time preparing.  ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports?  They’ve got brackets on each of those sites, and sometimes more than one entry.  It seems like every website, sports related or not, has added their own basketball contest.  What’s that?  BurgerKing.com has a March Madness pool?  I’ll have my bracket my way.  Unfortunately most of the bracketologists see their picks go up in flames after Sunday.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the casual bracket-makers.  Any strategy works for them.  I’ve heard some ask questions like: “Which team has the best colors?  Who would win in a fight between a Gator and a Bruin?  Didn’t I get waitlisted at Temple?”  They don’t care how much Joe Lunardi likes Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, or how strong Duke’s SOS is.  These fans have the guts to pick some of the boldest upsets, and sometimes they pan out.

Always hope for a bit of lady luck.  Back in 2006, only four people on ESPN.com correctly identified all of the teams making it to the Final Four: George Mason, Florida, LSU, and UCLA.  One of the fans, Russell Pleasant, explained that he had actually meant to pick George Washington instead of the dark horse Mason (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=shanoff/060328). 

Let’s hope that these young basketball players understand that they aren’t only playing for themselves, they are playing for all of us.  Win for the love of the game?  No, you need to win to save my bracket, kid.

I wish you the best of luck this year in making your basketball picks.  No matter how you choose to participate in March Madness this year, there is only one rule.  Have a good time.

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