Every year, millions of college basketball fans and non-fans alike enter the numerous and ubiquitous March Madness bracket contests. And every year the media waits, breathlessly, for a perfect bracket. The odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. A quintillion is one billion billions. That’s a helluva lot of zeroes, with 9.2 in front of all those zeroes. Here’s an excellent story concerning how all that is calculated.
Yet, this joker, err, mathematician, at Duke University says the odds are much, much lower. Apparently, this story came out before the UMBC 16-seed beatdown of Virginia last year. He assumed, incorrectly, that a 16 seed could never, and would never, beat a 1 seed. And now we find that Duke cannot always be trusted with its academic research endeavors. Mind you, dear reader, I am not at all suggesting that the two Duke stories are related. My only interest here is to point out that we can often get wildly inaccurate results from experts in their fields of research – for whatever reason.
Back to the brackets…
One guy has reached a string of 48 correct guesses, and he is a predictably unassuming dude from the unassuming state of Ohio. Here’s an interview with him. According to the editorial commentary in the story, his wife seems to understand what is happening quicker than he does. Anyway, our unassuming Bracket Hero has thus far eclipsed odds in the many billions. I won’t endeavor to suggest exactly how those are calculated, since we have substantial conjecture in the calculations, thus far
Here’s the point I am trying to make. I rarely fill out brackets. I am neither a stick in the mud, nor the Chief of the No-Fun Police. I’m just a realistic guy who handicaps this stuff and bets on it.
In the olden days before I handicapped and wagered, sure, I filled out a bracket or two. I even entered the contest Warren Buffett was advertising a few years ago, offering to pay an annuity in the amount of $1 billion, for a perfect bracket.
But after getting into trying to really figure out which teams to back, and how to bet on them, I stopped all of that childishness and foolishness. What I found was this – the more I considered my bracket, the more it affected how I handicapped and wagered on the individual contests. In other words, rooting for my bracket to win the relatively small stakes of the bracket challenges I entered, affected my analyses of the contests I handicapped and wagered real money on!
I sure hope our unassuming friend from Ohio is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. And I sincerely hope he takes down a perfect bracket and the grand prize paid out for whatever contest he has entered. And if he does, he will absolutely go down in history and will forever be consulted on his bracket picks as long as he lives. He will be just like Chris Moneymaker after taking down the World Series of Poker Main Event. The perfect example that a regular guy, not a professional or a computer, can win the biggest prize.
We have found that, indeed, a 16 seed can upset a 1 seed. And this not-at-all impossible feat will continue to happen, albeit infrequently. Let’s assume our friend defies all odds and hits a perfect bracket. Another perfect bracket being submitted by this same guy would never happen again. And another perfect bracket will never happen again – and remember, as I write this, it hasn’t happened yet. Enjoy entering the contests, folks. If you are betting real money on the individual contests, filling out brackets can be, in my experience, a huge distraction.
Finally, if you must fill out a bracket and enter it into a challenge, in order to look normal, I suggest you do this – Fill out the bracket with your guesses. Take as little or as much time as you need, submit it and forget it. Then get down to the real business of handicapping the individual contests. As we have seen in the NCAA.com story, the media will track your ass down to let you know how your bracket is faring…so far.