A Creative Approach To A March Madness Bracket

Over 20 years ago when I was listening to Mike and the Mad Dog, Mike discussed a bracket pool he was in. The pool awarded points for each round, 1 for the first round, 2 for the second, etc. But the twist was each round offered bonus points based on seed. For instance, in the first round, selecting a 1 to win the first round would pay out 1+1=2 if correct. Likewise, selecting a 14 to win the first round would pay out 1+14=15.

I immediately took this and ran with it at the office pool I ran. During those days I also ran a weekly football pool, an NFL playoff pool and even an Oscar pool for a few years; but I always considered the March Madness pool the ‘speciality of the house’

The ‘seed points’ introduced a risk/reward element to the bracket. Suppose you don’t see a high seed making it out of the second round. In that case, you may have them getting knocked out in the first round, even if you think they’d likely win that game. In the case of a 2 seed you’d be risking 1+2=3 to gain an additional 1+15=16. If you were to pick five of those and one comes through, you at least break even; and if two come through (not unreasonable) the risk definitely pays off. Plus it makes rooting for upsets that much more fun; and EVERYONE loves March Madness early round upsets!

This is also huge in the case of picking a lower seed to advance deep into the tournament. Last year UCLA, an 11 seed, made the Final Four. If you had them going that far you’d get 1+2+4+8+(11 x 4) = 59 points. Just on one team! Add to that the fact that most other players would likely have gone with ‘chalk’ to advance that far, that, by itself, would probably put you close to the top of the table, as long as you did a halfway decent job on your other picks.

The other wrinkle I added involved the 7–10 and 8–9 games. Selecting all of the 7–10 games correct scored 5 points; all the 8–9 games 20 points; and going 8 for 8 scored 50 points. Of the hundreds of sheets I graded, maybe one or two got the 50; but I do remember one where they went 7 of 8 missing one of the 8–9 games, resulting in a bonus of just 5 instead of 50. Ouch!

Overall, I thought it made for a more fun and engaging pool, and one where there was a real incentive to pick upsets. It added an element of skill and risk/reward that you don’t see in ‘straight’ pools.

The years I ran it I won once. 1998, this was a year most people had North Carolina but they were bumped off by No. 8 Rhode Island in the second round. This put me in a strong position. The pool that year was decided by Stanford vs Rhode Island in the regional final. I was watching that over my friend’s house and URI had something like an 8 point lead with a minute to go and I was rooting like hell for them. But they couldn’t hold on and wound up losing. As it turned out, someone in the pool had picked URI to go to the Final Four and, had they won, he would have won the pool. But I did, with a grand total of 252 points (which I think was the lowest winning score we had the years we did it.) In retrospect it would have been nice to see URI get there especially because I love mid-majors and for a school like URI that would have been a big deal.

I also did a women’s pool for a few years, since UConn women’s basketball is huge here. This didn’t get nearly the interest of the men’s pool but we still got some players. I wound up in a tie for first in 2004 but lost on the tiebreaker (total points) Mike (the guy that win) gave me about 25% of his winnings — maybe $7 — as appreciation for my work in organizing it. I remember that as fondly, if not more so, than the year I won.

Like I said I would have liked to have seen Rhody go to the Final Four and maybe the distance. Although it is nice that I can say I once won a March Madness pool.

Then there was the matter of grading the sheets. After realizing what a headache grading the sheets by hand were — not to mention the fact that time spent grading sheets was less time spent on month end and paying rent — I figured out a way to work up an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the scores. Basically it was setting up a column for each team and how many wins a player had that team winning. For instance, picking UConn to win 5 games, put 5 games in that column. There were ways to check it but I found that was the easiest and quickest way to do it. When we added the bonus scores I just changed the formulas, and then added @IF formulas for the 7–10 and 8–9 games. And it all came out on the top sheet nice and clean.

I haven’t run this pool in years and there may be a way to manipulate Excel to do it even more efficiently but I don’t know.

As far as when the tournament went to 65. I just ignored it. You were given the winner of that game as a gimme. I’d probably do the same with it at 68 anyway.

BTW for a while KFC sponsored the brackets and I would always write ‘Phil Jackson’ and an arrow pointing at The Colonel because that’s how I roll. Even when KFC stopped sponsoring the bracket I would still do a cut and paste and the same thing. Then I’d scan it and send it out. It looked pretty good, if I do say so.

BTW if anyone wants to know more about what my brother and I did with the PB-65 let me know.

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