Well, I’m out of the running for the billion dollars. Warren Buffett throwing that money on the table for anyone picking a perfect NCAA basketball tournament bracket piqued a lot of interest in people in 2014. This year, more than ever, I pondered my bracket and considered lessons from previous years. As it goes with this sort of thing, I spent too much time and thought, and it was all for not. I did learn a few little lessons about math, people, and what money will do to people despite what the math says. Here are 5 lessons I got from my NCAA tournament bracket.
Lesson 1. There is virtually no chance to select a perfect bracket
Many people tried. After the first day, 25 were left. I listened to a podcast by The Math Dude, Jason Marshall, Ph.D., and he broke out the odds of selecting a perfect bracket like this: If I selected teams at random, giving each game 50/50 likelihood that I’d pick the winner, my odds of a perfect bracket are about 1 in 9.2 quintillion; that is 1 in 9.2 billion billion. Using principles like picking the higher seeds more often in the first round, DePaul math professor Jeff Bergen estimates the odds of selecting a perfect bracket are closer to 1 in 128 billion, he said in USA Today. Using the second strategy gives you about 70 million times better odds.
Lesson 2. There are 63 games in the tournament (not counting the play-in games)
Here’s something else I learned from the Math Dude. I didn’t count the games in the tournament, I used an easy principle to figure this out. After the play-in games, you have 64 teams in the bracket. At the end of the tournament, only one time hasn’t lost. Every other team lost once in the tournament, and then dropped out. Therefore, for 63 teams to lose and 1 team to win, there must be 63 games. Use this principle if ever you need to figure out how many games you need for a single-elimination tournament. G = n-1, where G is number of games, and n is the number of teams entering the single-elimination tournament.
Lesson 3. All it takes is one spoiler
When Ohio State lost, the dreams of about 84 percent of the people who entered Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar bracket sweepstakes went up in smoke. Ohio State diplomas are no longer worth the paper (or sheepskin) they’re printed upon. Forget the billion dollars though, how many times has one upset ruined your Final Four? For me, plenty of times. It’s usually not the underdogs I pick though. It’ll be a first seed losing in the second round.
Lesson 4. Money makes people interested in things
My girlfriend hates basketball. I know this because whenever I watch it, I get to hear how much she hates it. But when I told her she could win a billion dollars picking out an NCAA bracket, well, she downloaded the app and was suddenly searching the Internet for college basketball-related terms. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm was all directed at the billion dollars. She picked Ohio State, and now she has no interest in watching the tournament on TV.
Lesson 5. The NCAA college basketball tournament is awesome!
Doing tournament brackets with my friends every year, and watching the tournament has taught me why I love basketball. Drama, comedy, heartbreak, competition. These teams all show up and lay it on the line. Every underdog believes it’s their day. The NCAA tournament has its fair share of hype; however, there’s so much energy contained within it that the tournament lives up to the hype, unlike some recent Super Bowls. If March Madness is a disease, I don’t want to be cured!
Chase, C. (2014, March 20). It took one NCAA tournament game for 80 percent of people to lose their chance at $1 billion . For The Win: USA Today Sports.
Hampson, R. (2014, March 16). Why You Won’t Win March Madness Billion Dollar Bracket. USA Today . Retrieved 21 March 2014.
Marshall, J. (2014, March 7). What Are the Odds of Predicting a Perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket? The Math Dude Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier . Retrieved 21 March 2014.