Column: Filling out tournament brackets a frustrating experience

Jasper Wilson | March 18, 2012    

I have a love-hate relationship with NCAA Tournament brackets.

I enjoy the process of filling… I have a love-hate relationship with NCAA Tournament brackets.

I enjoy the process of filling them out. I like debating the teams’ merit, looking at matchups, completely overlooking the mid-majors that are going to ruin my chances of winning my bracket pool — I’m looking at you, Virginia Commonwealth University and Butler — and ultimately deciding which teams will end up in the Final Four.

After filling out brackets for the past five years and coming nowhere close to correctly predicting the last two teams standing, I have adjusted my expectations in the hopes of lessening the hurt that comes along with my bracket’s chronic ineptitude.

Once the tournament starts, a funny thing happens. After my bracket implodes during the first weekend, I sink into a mild depression until the Sweet Sixteen. After that, I’m not really mad that I have failed once again and go on to enjoy the rest of the tournament even more than I did those first four days.

I enjoy watching the improbable occur during these two and a half weeks. Even casual fans can get caught up in the craziness of the NCAA Tournament, and the ability to captivate gives March Madness an advantage over other postseason events, such as the college football bowl season.

But at the same time, those same casual fans can fill out an entire bracket purely based on the schools’ mascots and have more success than me.

I’ve only won a pool once, during my junior year of high school. I can’t even remember my Final Four picks for 2010-2011, but I know I didn’t pick Butler. Even in the year when I won, I didn’t pick the right mid-major.

I haven’t forgotten that.

My general mistrust of mid-majors hasn’t wavered, but I still tend to gamble on the small schools.

I trust my intuition, but, when it comes to brackets, my intuition apparently shouldn’t be trusted.

Last year, VCU — a No. 11 seed that played in one of the First Four games — made it all the way to the Final Four. When No. 12 seed VCU lost to Indiana on Saturday, I felt no pity for the Rams.

Filling out a bracket provides short-term gratification, but the allure of this gratification is strong. Is the attraction of predicting the NCAA Tournament simply the bracket itself? The online sports and culture website Grantland provides some evidence for this theory.

The site has put together brackets for topics ranging from the best Wire character to the best soup. It held voting on its Facebook page, and the public responded well.

For those interested, Omar Little won best Wire character, and New England Clam Chowder won the Souper Bowl.

Foreign Policy Magazine has also gotten in on the action, creating a bracket made up of world political leaders.

At last check, reported 6.45 million brackets created for its 2012 Tournament Challenge, and that participation hints at something bigger.

What about when you factor in the participation numbers of other online sites that hold bracket contests, such as Yahoo and CBSSports? Countless office, floor and dorm pools show that the bracket epidemic has a far reach.

The number of participants is tremendous without even counting people who fill out multiple brackets. Those people are the cause of a solid portion of my bitterness over the recurring failure of my own bracket.

Seeing how your picks fare is part of the fun of March Madness, and isn’t that fun diminished when one of your brackets does better than another, and you’re never really wrong? There’s no risk involved that way.

Is this approach childish and petty? Without a doubt. But that still doesn’t make it acceptable for you to fill out five different brackets and celebrate wildly when one of those five wins a pool or has the correct National Champion.

You all know who you are.

Now, I’m going to go bemoan the fate of my bracket, which currently sits in the 11.3 percentile on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, and by the time this is submitted will be well on its way to the last place spot of every pool that I entered.

Thanks a lot, Norfolk State.

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