Every March, the country is consumed by an obsession with the basketball tournament we’ve come to know as March Madness. As someone who is mildly obsessed with basketball year round, I usually find the exponential increase in attention fun and refreshing. Over the past few years, however, I've began to notice a disturbing trend.
I have been involved with March Madness pools since I was an eight-year-old, when I began a contest with my father using the bracket printed in the newspaper. Ever since, this season has always brought back fond memories of competition and bracket bragging rights. We would always bet a single dollar on the outcome of our contest. Though a meager amount, this dollar better represented the thrills of screaming at the TV when your freak upset pick shocked the world more than it did any revenue generated from your basketball genius.
Once, when I was in fourth grade, I asked my father why we always bet such a strange amount. In my mind, it was hardly even enough to buy candy. He responded and said,“Well, I’m not comfortable losing any more money than that on luck alone.”
Since that moment I have understood the NCAA tournament to be a very entertaining crapshoot. This is probably shocking to some who believe staunchly in the legitimacy of the tournament’s competition, but it's simply the truth.
The very definition of an upset is an unexpected result and every single godforsaken year the tournament is filled with them. These results defy all of the carefully crafted predictions based upon hours of game film, statistics and common sense.
To every person that gleefully proclaims that they ‘called’ the 14 seed knocking off the three seed, I say to you, no you did not. What you did was produce a mental coin flip in your head. And then your faulty frontal lobe told you that it was a good idea to disregard all reason and choose the underdog simply because “anything can happen in March."
I will concede that anything can happen in March. It is a single elimination tournament with no second chances for a seemingly strong team (I mean you, Villanova) who one day might just forget how to play this strange, orange-sphered game. The games are also only 40 minutes long, which is just long enough for a crappy team to pretend to be a good one. The referees, who might I add, are considerably worse than NBA officials, are tasked with making game changing calls with minimal aid from instant replay. Coaches make bad decisions at times and players (anyone on Cincinnati) make worse ones at even worse times.
All of these factors give the tournament its fun reputation for parity and upsets galore, but also make it a completely nonsensical and impossibly unpredictable entity. Those infuriating creatures whose brackets make it out of the minefield of March Madness unscathed, merely benefit from an unholy string of mental coin flips that give the semblance of basketball savvy. If this applies to you, I urge you to look around on ESPN toward the other brackets that have succeeded. I hazard a guess that you will find twelve grandmothers that have never watched a minute of basketball and based their picks on jersey color preferences or love for mascots. You won’t find the ESPN analysts who have spent an entire year researching their picks or anyone else with sports knowledge. There is a reason why Warren Buffett would be willing to stake a billion dollars on the outcome of a basketball tournament. It’s because there’s no way to make the right picks using reason alone.
My word of advice to all the tournament-obsessed students out there is to never bet on the tournament. And to all those special omniscient souls out there who think they know it all, I have alternative advice.
Walk into a random room in Gottwald this week and take a multiple-choice exam with no prior knowledge of the subject or course. If picking arbitrary letter choices again lands you a high percentage of correct answers because you “just know how to pick them,” then keep betting and never stop.
If you’re not in this divine group and you did about as well as Lance Armstrong on his last drug test, you should quit while you’re ahead. Just accept that last year’s bracket performance was a gift from the mighty March Madness gods.
This doesn’t mean you can’t talk smack to your friends about crushing their pathetic predictions, because I highly encourage that. It only means that you must realize March Madness is a fickle game where winners and losers are determined by mere happenstance.
Next year, don’t be that person walking around campus in mid-March telling everyone that they should have listened to your basketball gospel. People could listen to anyone’s awful predictions and do better than they would have alone. Just ask last year’s bracket winners, I’m sure they would be glad to tell you how they too saw this all coming.