The Contrarian: Why You Should Give Up Bracketmania

March 14th, 2010
It is that time of the year when my e-mail inbox and Facebook inbox are loaded with offers to get in NCAA Bracket Challenges and office pools. Some are for fun and some are for money, but all of them offer heartbreak and frustration.

So two years ago I decided to not enter any office pools. Heck, I didn’t even fill out a bracket for my own use.

If felt liberating, it gave me a peace-of-mind as I watched games. I actually rooted only for teams I really wanted to win as I stuffed my face with cheese fries, potato skins, steak sandwiches and cheeseburgers, as opposed to rooting for the teams I think should win. It actually allowed me to kick back and really enjoy my cigars as I watched four games at a time at a sports bar in Northern Kentucky.

All around me were people with their brackets laid put in front of them screaming at the TV screens. A lot of people had multiple brackets; all market up with their picks and their corrections to their picks in front of them.

I have to admit the idea to skip doing brackets was not mine, although I wish it was my idea. A few years ago Kyle Whelliston wrote a column about why you shouldn’t enter your office pool that was published on

Whelliston describes how he would fill in the all the pairings as a kid when they were announced and then over the weeks fill in the winners. If a team he liked (always a mid-major) won he would fill them in with bold letters, with all caps and maybe even underline it. If a BCS team advanced he would write them down maybe using a pencil in real small letters, hoping they might disappear.

"Each naked tree branch on my bracket was a place where new spring leaves soon sprout and unfurl," wrote Whelliston. "When the champion was crowned, I could look back on my bracket and recall all the emotions I felt with each game. I still have most of my brackets from the eighties; each one is a map to my NCAA memories."  

When I read that it really struck a chord with me. Whelliston’s poetic way of describing a better way to enjoy the greatest sporting event in the world had to be better than the frustration of watching my predictions go further down the toilet with each round.

It can be absolutely maddening to watch as a 20 year old player miss a buzzer-beater, or commit an untimely turnover or foul in the closing seconds of a tight game. Then when that player is playing for a team I really don’t want to win, but since I picked them in my brackets, I was obligated to root for them.

Now for those of you not familiar with Welliston, he is the mid-major king. He eats, sleeps and writes about everything mid-major and he has no time to waste on Duke, Pittsburgh, Kentucky or any school above the redline, which is his way of separating the big boys and the so-called mid-majors in the world of college basketball. He bases his redline on how much money schools spend on college sports.

Many years ago I began to think something was wrong. I would study college basketball, more than most people I know, but when the NCAA National Championship game was concluded I found that I lost in my office pool to people that knew a lot less than I did.

To make losing even worse, I seemed to often lose to the office receptionist or bookkeeper that picked the winner based how their uniforms looked or what mascots represented the schools.

The difference between the office pool brackets and the ones that played out on the court were monumental. Watching the NCAA Tournament especially in the latter rounds was pure torture.

About four years ago I was sitting around a table with a sports talk-show host in Cincinnati, a newspaper sports writer and Division I coach. It was a round table discussion about college hoops at a Northern Kentucky sports bar. We had the cigars going, beer flowing and good food everywhere. It was quite an assortment of basketball knowledge.

About 30 minutes into it, I asked if anyone had ever won an office pool. As we went around the table, it was nope, nope, not even close and nada.

It became evident that if that group can’t accurately predict a sport they are heavily involved with on a regular basis, then there is no reason to enter the office poor with an expectation of winning.

Trying to predict random events on a basketball court is about the same as going to a casino and playing a slot machine.

I know there is probably a guy in your office that is the office sports nut. He always has two screens active on his computer at any given time. He has his work on one screen and a sports web page going on another, that he can minimize when the boss comes by.

He will come by and solicit you to join the office pool. It will be tempting because all the cool people in the office will be playing.

But this year, tell him no. Tell him, you want to enjoy the tournament this year and root for the teams that you really want to win. Maybe even do what Kyle suggests, fill out your brackets as the tournament progresses, printing the teams that you really like in big bold, colorful letters and the ones you do not like in a small dull number two pencil creatively misspelling them.

Leave the office pool to all the people that don’t pay much attention to college basketball until the tournament. After all, they usually win the office pool anyway.

Try it, I did and it made watching the tournament a lot more fun the last two years and you may just get them all right this year.