Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 24, 2014

Tidbits: Bracket-busting madness

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — I am having ill thoughts towards the University of Dayton today. No, it has nothing to do with the school. I actually know very little about the school, other than it is in Dayton, OH. My animosity stems from their shocking upset last week of no. 6 seed Ohio State University in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella story. I usually revel in those underdogs that keep it together and manage to go much farther into the big dance than any ESPN commentator would have you believe is possible. Unfortunately, they were the wrong Cinderella team, at least for my bracket, and their last second, one-point upset of Ohio State meant I missed not just one guess in my quest for the perfect bracket, but two, as I had picked Ohio State to win over Syracuse and make it to the Sweet Sixteen. That loss meant I was wrong in two games and not just one. It was a double whammy.

Then, to rub a little salt in the wound, the almost unthinkable happened and Duke, dear, dear Duke, a perennial favorite in the tournament, seeded no. 3 in the Midwest bracket, lost — LOST — to Mercer.

And what happened to my Cinderella pick? No. 10 BYU failed to get past the first match with no. 7 Oregon.

Of course, I'm not alone. There are no perfect brackets remaining in the Billion Dollar Bracket or ESPN's annual bracket contest.

For those who are not sports fans, and have somehow managed to avoid the annual bracket madness, let me explain. The NCAA picks 64 teams that will play for the national title each year. It's a flurry of games, whittling the field from 64 down to 32, then the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, Final Four and, finally, the two contenders.

It takes only a few weeks to get to the finals, so it's pretty exciting to watch. Personally, I don't care for college basketball. There are too many games during the year and it seems to drag on, and it's not nearly as fun to watch as college football, in my opinion. But I love March Madness.

All bets are off once the tournament starts. What you did during the season is great, but it's a single-elimination tournament and, if you aren't careful, you could squander your no. 1 seed and lose to a 16 seed,  theoretically. That's actually never happened. But it could, and that's why March Madness is so much fun to watch.

This year, investment tycoon Warren Buffett teamed up with Quicken Loans and Yahoo! to offer $1 billion (that's billion, with a B) to anyone who entered the contest and made it to April 7 with a perfect bracket, picking every win, every upset, every miracle play. 

Mr. Buffett is not known for making bad investments. The odds were certainly in his favor — 9.2 quintillion to one odds of someone picking a perfect bracket. ESPN has been holding online bracket contests since 1998, with multiple entries allowed. And they have yet to have a perfect bracket.

In fact, though there are anecdotal stories of people picking perfect brackets, using such scientific methods as which team color they like better or the preferred mascot, there is no documented perfect bracket.

What we do have is a host of historical data, which any sports junkie will rattle off while you try to pick your bracket based on if the Wildcats will beat the Eagles. First, your bracket must include an upset of a 5 seed by a 12 seed. Why? Because at least one number 12 seed has won its opening round game in 12 of the past 13 tournaments, and that streak continued last week, with Harvard ruining its share of brackets as the Crimson upset Cincinnati. But don't pick a number 15 seed to upset a number 2 seed. That's only happened seven times. And the number 14 Mercer over number 3 Duke? Such an upset has only happened 18 times since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

With all those stats and the uncertainty of picking a winner in 63 games, is it any wonder that all brackets were officially busted on Saturday? A Yahoo! user, who did not enter the Billion Dollar Bracket contest, was perfect through the first round, but his streak ended Saturday when Dayton spoiled his run, toppling Syracuse.

Enjoy the madness, everyone. With the billion dollar prize gone, we can all go back to enjoying it for the love of the game, which is more fun, anyway.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.