An Introduction to the Madness

It’s hard to interact in American culture without at least hearing about March Madness. While sports fans may wait all year for this event, many others do not even know what sport it refers to. This is the perfect guide for those who want to participate in their office pools and take part in the group fun.

So what is March Madness?

March Madness is a two week event where the best college basketball teams in the nation compete for the NCAA national championship. All season they have been working to earn a spot in this single-elimination tournament.
There are a total of 68 teams that eventually narrow down to a single winner. Most of the attention goes to the teams that make it to what’s known as the Sweet Sixteen, when it’s down to the last 16 teams after the first weekend. After the round of eight is the Final Four, and lastly the championship game. The winning team collects the trophy, gold rings and (of course) the title of National Champion.

What’s this office “pool” all about?

While originally the NCAA national basketball championship may have solely been about enjoying the games themselves, many have taken to betting on the outcomes of the event. Once the core 64 teams are announced, individuals betting will take a blank tournament bracket and predict who the various winners will be.

For every correctly predicted winner as the games occur, the person betting will receive a certain amount of points (which varies depending on who is running the pool). Usually the first few rounds aren’t worth a lot of points, while those who correctly guess the later winners receive more points. After the games wrap up, whoever has the most points in the pool wins the money.

How to fill out your bracket and join the pool

If you want to join the pool this year, you need to first track down the person running your office/group’s pool. They will be able to explain any particular rules they have in place that are not explained here. However, don’t expect too many changes from this guide.

On Sunday, the players and what’s called their “seeds” are announced. Each team will receive a number between one and 16, which is given based on their performance over that year’s season. The team with a seed number of one will play the 16th seed, the second will play the 15th and so on. This makes the initial pairings fairly easy to figure out.

Once the top 64 teams are paired up, you need to go through the entire bracket and attempt to predict which teams will end up winning their matchups, all the way to the grand champion. Your goal will be to correctly guess as many as you can.

“That sounds impossible!” you might say. Yeah, actually, it is. There are no documented cases of anyone ever filling out a perfect bracket. The goal is to be as close as you can. Some pools weight the points that you receive, based on how far into the tournament you are. While usually you will only receive a single point for guessing correctly the first round, guessing the Final Four or champion correctly can win you as many as 30 points (again, check with your pool coordinator).

For those of you still hung up on the idea that you need to guess so many teams that you have no idea about, here are some tips:

1. There has never been a 16th seeded team beating a first seeded team. That means that you can usually bet on the better ranked teams to win.

2. The overwhelming majority of the winning teams were never ranked lower than a fifth seed. There have only ever been two champions seeded lower than that—the lowest ever was an eight seed. That means that your predicted champion should be somewhere between a first and a fifth seed.

3. Don’t forget to pick a favorite team! If you have any kind of relationship with a participating team (home state, previously attended, like the name, etc.), then see them through and hope they win a few rounds.

While “bracketology” is actually a word, and many swear by their certain methods of getting a strong bracket, it’s really just a game of luck. As The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gray says, “The number one rule in March Madness is that you will lose your bracket to someone who has never watched an NCAA game.” He also mentioned that “anyone who claims to have a method is delusional.”

In short, don’t worry too much about trying to outsmart your fellow players. The point of filling out a bracket is to enjoy the games and these pools just give it that extra element of intensity.