5 min read

Some etiquette for the Madness

So everyone had their bracket filled out three days and I know I’m late with this, but I wrote this column a couple years ago and I always make it a point to revise and re-share it with friends every year. And you guys are my friends, right? Since we’re all literally counting the seconds until the Madness tips tomorrow, how about another column to kill some time until the tournament?

It’s March, and that means madness is only minutes away. It also means that last Sunday night, everyone from Digger Phelps to my grandmother filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket. (And grandma has beat Digger three years running probably because she doesn’t think every single team is “salad” and also understands how the bracket actually works.)

Somehow, the filling out of brackets has become bigger than the tournament itself. Heck, the President took a step away from hope and change and saving the world to fill one out. The brackets have become so big, someone needs to define some Madness bracket etiquette, and I’m going to do just that.

1. Limit yourself to one bracket. There is a reason this rule is first. It’s the most important rule, and if you just follow one, please let it be this one. Even if you’re in 14 pools, fill out one bracket, and send it in 14 times. No one wants to hear some guy say, “Yeah, in one of my brackets I totally picked Bucknell over Kansas! I’m so smart!” That means you picked it wrong 13 other times, you dolt. You haven’t called anything, you aren’t smart and I hate you. By filling out 14 different brackets, you’ve just increased your odds of getting at least one lunatic upset right.

(The addendum here is that if you enter in ESPN’s bracket pool thing, you can do more than one because money is at stake and you increase your odds. Hey, we are in a recession you know. You’re just not allowed to talk about any of your extra brackets.)

2. Keep the bracket talk to a minimum. I understand brackets are fun to talk about with friends, but we’re still trying to crown a national champion here people. That’s a little more important than if one of your Final Four teams went down on the first day. I know that may have cost you 10 bucks, but really, it’s not that big a deal.

Nothing burns me more than watching a close, exciting game with Gus Johnson’s voice about to blow up my TV and hearing three people say, “Oh crap, my bracket is totally gone. My bracket is busted. My bracket… bracket… BRACKET!” Nobody cares about your bracket. The only reason I asked you about it was so I could talk about mine.

3. Don’t become so absorbed in your bracket and your picks that you begin to root against a great upset. Some guy from North Direction State has hit 14 threes and his team is up on Duke by four with three minutes left and you’re pulling for the Blue Devils still because you’ve got them in the Sweet 16? I don’t even want to look at you.

I understand there’s money involved for some people, which can affect how you root. The amount you stand to win in your bracket pool is probably at most $150 (and if you’re in a pool where the winner gets more than that, well, you’re an idiot. We are in a recession you know). But seeing a 16-seed beat a No. 1 is priceless. Being able to tell friends five years from now that you watched it live and then maybe in another 15 years telling them that you were actually there is worth 150 yammers. Trust me. I still can’t believe I was actually at the Miracle on Ice.

4. Pick your team. There’s no greater sports sin than rooting against your team because there’s money riding on it. Somewhere, Pete Rose is nodding. So I always take my team one round further than I actually think it will go.

Let’s assume my favorite school is OU. I’ve got the Sooners winning round one and then cruising past Clemson en route to the round of 16. Some would have OU losing there. But I feel good about them so I take them over the Orange. I don’t think OU gets past North Carolina – Ty Lawson or not – but since I’m a fan (supposedly), I’ve got to send the Sooners to the Final Four. It’s just the right thing to do. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if OU went to Detroit but my “brain” told me to take Clemson over them in the second round.

And once you’re team exceeds expectations, your bracket should be thrown in the trash and the fact your boys made a run should be all the excitement you can handle.

5. Don’t get wrapped up in picking upsets. For some reason, people think it increases their sports credibility if they correctly pick a huge upset. Sure, it’s cool if you correctly picked a No. 14 over a No. 3. It’s not so cool if you picked 10 other upsets and only got that one. No one cares you picked Farleigh Dickinson into the Sweet 16 if it’s the only Sweet 16 team you got right.

You’ve got to realize that even if you like North Dakota State over Kansas, it’s not because you like North Dakota State. Maybe you watched highlights on SportsCenter of them winning their conference tourney. That’s the most you know about them. Go ahead, name three players. No Google. I’ll wait.

So you’ve got to understand that it’s more that you’re picking against Kansas and not picking for ND State. You don’t actually “like” Cleveland State to beat Wake Forest. You just don’t like Wake Forest.

6. Understand that you’re going to hate your bracket. You will. Not once will you fill it out and look at it and say, “Yep, that looks about right. Missouri and BYU in the Elite Eight? This is perfect.” You go through, picking individual matchups, taking who you like and then you realize, “Crap, I have UCLA against Wisconsin in the regional final. The winner goes to the Final Four. How the in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks did I wind up with that?” It happens. Just know it will, accept it and move on. Hey, you could be right. Right?

7. Men, don’t let your girlfriends/wives in your pool. It’s been confirmed the more you think you know, the less you actually know. You spent 16 straight hours reading every prediction column, watching experts lay out their picks and researching injuries and intangibles. And yet, somehow, she’ll beat you. She picked based on team colors and mascot names and you were educated. But don’t try her method. It won’t work for you. It only works for them. I have no idea why, but it just won’t work for you.

There’s nothing more humiliating than your girlfriend/wife picking the right Final Four and saying to you, “Geez, I thought you followed college basketball. I don’t know anything about it, and I got all these right.” I’m looking at my wife’s bracket right now and she has all four No. 11 seeds winning, Cal State Northridge in the Sweet 16 and six teams in the Final Four. But I’m not going to laugh at her, because it will inevitably end up being right.

There you have it. Follow those seven rules, and you’re sure to have a good March. But just remember, I don’t care about your bracket and nobody really knows anything. Except me. My bracket is awesome.