March 23, 2004
Madness, I Say
Once again, it's time for the NCAA college basketball tournament, that wonderful time of the year when the Bracket Producers of America's web site suddenly gets a lot more hits than usual. Like millions of Americans, I filled out my brackets last week. Like most of those millions, I haven't actually watched an entire college basketball game all year, yet I still have an opinion, however ill informed it might be. What is it about being in a basketball pool that suddenly causes so many people to feel knowledgeable about some Friday afternoon game between Cincinnati and East Tennessee State?
For some, it's surely the love of basketball. Not me. I'm in it purely for the gambling. It's the one sporting event all year that I actually put money on. I love it that by simply filling in a line on my bracket I instantly care about whether East Tennessee State can beat Cincinnati. There are 64 college basketball games over a three-week period. I'll only watch a few of them, but thanks to gambling I have a rooting interest in every single one -- well, at least for a few days until stupid Stanford University loses in the second round, completely ruining any chance I have of winning.
Someone once wrote that this is the time of year when the office photocopier is used more for basketball brackets and taxes than for actual work, and it's probably true. Last Wednesday, I managed to copy both my bracket and my taxes on the same day, which is something of an accomplishment. I just hope that I didn't accidentally mail my bracket to the IRS and my tax return to the guy who runs the basketball pool. That would be awful. I would have no chance at all of winning the pool, and someone at the IRS might be able to steal my picks and make money off of them.
There wasn't actually a pool in my office this year, so instead I'm in one with some graduate students from the department in which I work. I barely know these people, but it's still fun. At first, I was a little worried that it would be awkward to take the money of strangers when I won, but since no money is at stake I guess it's okay.
I'm glad I joined, because it's the most impressive pool I've ever been in. One student with way too much time on his hands (and I mean that in the best possible way) actually built a web site for it. It's truly addictive. At any moment, I can check to see who all of the other 25 people picked. The results are updated shortly after the games conclude. And there's even a monkey! (That's the name of a fictional "player" who makes completely random picks.) I donít believe there's a real monkey making the picks, though I do work in the chemistry department, so you never know. There could be one in a lab somewhere that they're running experiments on.
Despite my ignorance, I'm no slouch when it comes to these pools. Once, I won two years in a row and would have won a third year if my team hadn't lost in the final. There are those who would say that my success was due to utter blind luck, though I prefer to think it's because I have a winning system. Granted, the other players would probably chalk it up to luck, but these are the same people who couldn't even beat me in a basketball pool, so why should we listen to them?
By the way, I would explain my winning system to you, but then I would have to kill you. Still, since you've read this far, it's only fair that I conclude by sharing some of my wisdom with you. Here's my special pick of the week. On Thursday, I'm choosing Stanford to win. Don't let the fact they they've already been eliminated from the tournament deter you from picking this fine basketball powerhouse.
©2004 Joe Lavin