Five reasons not to obsess over your NCAA bracket

Five reasons not to obsess over your NCAA bracket
March 19, 2014, 1:45 pm
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The NCAA tournament officially started last night, with a pair of play-in games disguised as the new First Round, but as far as your bracket goes, the action kicks off tomorrow: 12:15 pm — No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton. It’s the Battle for Ohio! Jared Sullinger vs. Chris Johnson! You have until tip-off to make your picks, submit your entry and prepare to be embarrassed in front of your dearest friends and family.
I still remember the first time I won an NCAA basketball pool. It was back in 1994, the year that current Virginia head coach Tony Bennett led No. 12 Wisconsin-Green Bay to an upset over Jason Kidd and the Cal Bears. My dad and I had both picked Wisconsin-GB, and for a few days they became our favorite team in the country.
It was also the year that Cinderella grew a luxurious blond mullet as Billy Curley’s BC Eagles upset North Carolina and Indiana on the way their way to the Elite Eight. Being the patsy, fanboy homer I am (and because I was still star struck from peeing in the urinal next to Danya Abrams at basketball camp the previous summer), I picked BC to get that far. And I hit on almost every other Cinderella. The National Champion, too. (Thanks, Scotty Thurman!)
I won my dad’s office pool in a landslide.
I think the pot was $200, which, with inflation and the fact that I was 14, was pretty much the equivalent $2,000. Either way, I still remember walking into his office to collect the prize. My head held high. Feeling like the champion of the world. A basketball wizard! As all the employees faked a smile, while probably thinking: “Can’t believe I lost to this twerpy kid.”
Ah yes. Those were the good old days. Braces, acne and basketball immortality. I’ll never forget winning that first pool.
Mostly because it’s never happened again.
Yup. That’s right. This season marks 20 years since my One Shining Moment. And in the time since, I haven’t even come close to repeating. Every year, for whatever reason, whether I follow college hoops obsessively and study the field like my dog’s life depends on it, or barely pay attention and base every pick on the head coach’s astrological sign, I fall on my face. I’ve slowly morphed from young basketball wizard into bracketology’s Buffalo Bills. I just plain suck, and sucking isn’t fun. So in that spirit, here are five damn good reasons to ignore your bracket this month:
1. No one wants to talk about it: Once the tournament starts, talking about your bracket is more annoying than talking about your fantasy team. At the very least, it’s on par. If the fantasy epidemic is like a yearlong cold that you can never quite kick, bracket talk is a three-week super flu. It’s quick and dirty. It knocks you on your ass and just dominates your life.
It’s Torture, baby!! With a capital T!!
2. Jay Bilas is the best college basketball analyst in the country and gets paid millions for his opinions on the game. My mother is a 66-year-old woman who probably thinks Embiid is a brand of toothpaste. But if I sat her down with a bracket and explained the basic seeding process, there’s a distinct possibility that she would defeat Mr. Bilas. Crazier than that? No one would think it’s that crazy. That’s just the way this thing goes. Winning a pool doesn’t prove you know more — you hear that, 14-year-old self?! — it only proves the existence of luck and the power of God Shamgod. At the end of the day, bragging about winning an NCAA pool is like bragging about winning at roulette.
Everyone’s secretly jealous that you landed a big payday, but no one’s particularly impressed with how you got there.
3. You’ve seen it a million times. You’re out at a bar. All the games are on TV. And suddenly, a No. 15 seed is pushing a No. 2 seed to the brink. They have them on the ropes. This is what March Madness is all about!
And invariably, there’s that one guy right in front, loudly carrying on because he has that No. 2 seed in the Final Four. He’s actually rooting against Cinderella.
Don’t be this guy.
Unless you went to the school that’s playing or have a rooting interest that goes beyond your bracket, don’t cheer against a beautiful, uplifting story in order to maintain the .01 percent chance that you might win a couple hundred bucks. Have a heart, Putin.
4. The bracket dynamic is stale. It’s been marketed too psychotically and over-saturated by ESPN and the like. It has jumped the Jerry Tarkanian. So instead, I suggest doing a Survivor Pool. It’s much more fun and involved and strategic.
You know how it goes: Pick one team each day of the tournament. Not each round, but each day. Once you pick a team, you can’t pick them again. Once your team loses, you lose. And the last team standing wins it all.
There’s also the Snake Draft, where you and seven friends draft teams from the field of 64. (Teams of teams, not players) At the end, you all have eight, and the objective is simple: Whoever wins the most total games wins the prize.
5. You’re not going to win your pool. Seriously, you’re not. At the very least, assuming that and then being surprised is much preferable to assuming the opposite and looking silly. And I’m not saying you won’t win because you’re not good enough. It’s because it’s random. It’s a crapshoot. It’s not worth obsessing over a crapshoot. That’s like obsessing over catching a foul ball at a Red Sox game.
It’s only going to happen when it happens and there’s so little you can do to alter the outcome. Meanwhile, as you become consumed with controlling the uncontrollable, you miss out on all the natural wonder.
One of the best three weeks of the sports calendar — whether you fill out a bracket or not.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I should probably go fill out mine.
Pretty sure that this the year.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine