Turns Out March Madness Doesn’t Really Start till Late March, but oh God it’s Here Now

… and it goes till April 8. So the good news is we got a few weeks of pre-madness — really more of gradual slide into insanity which, prior to today, was not yet full-blown but was exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior and non-receptiveness to meds and therapy. The bad news is this nonsense is going to leak over into next month. The way worse news is that March Madness is actually pretty short as far as periods of sports happenings go.

Prior to today, when “brackets” were due in office pools around the country as important games started, there was actually basketball being played by college teams and small talk being spoken by grown-ass men and, to a lesser extent, women (it’s statistically true that there are fewer female sports fans, there are studies. Good for you, ladies 18 to 49, that “Sunday Night Football” was your third most-watched show two years ago, but the fact that “Dancing with the Stars” and “Grey’s Anatomy” took the top two slots leaves the paradigm, and my biases, as a female who hates all three of those shows, intact).

This is because of the so-called “play-in” games, through which not-great teams that did not get an automatic invitation to what we discovered in the last post is known as The Big Dance, were able to compete for a spot in the tournament. So that’s all happened now, and today the actual tournament starts and might be ongoing as I write, I don’t really know because I’m busy doing my job kinda.

As the nation has geared up for this b-ball bacchanalia (Small Talk Fact (TM): b-ball never refers to baseball), sports-related news has been jockeying for position with actual news on the websites. The Economist notes that “March Madness is so popular that one job-placement firm has estimated that the games cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productive hours” and highlights the meta-insanity of the fact that March Madness is important enough for serious people to debate its economic impact. Foreign Policy has tediously explored “America’s March Madness Problem” which is not, as you might expect, the whole hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity thing, but rather the fact that “we’re Duke,” meaning, you know, geopolitically dominant and universally hated even though we’re not all so bad as like, individuals. Obviously.

And then there are approximately zillions of angles on this whole “bracket” phenomenon, which to me is actually much more interesting than the underlying activity. If you work in a big enough office, you probably got slapped with an additional deadline this morning when some overzealous HR type (Hi, Justin! So nice to be included!) had you cough up some cash to undertake a time-constrained  task you are ill-qualified to perform, that is, guessing the winner of each of many, many games. Those characteristics of filling out a bracket — upfront investment, deadlines, lack of qualifications — actually also describe the rest of my job too, now that I think of it, given the price of the masters degree it took to get in the door and all I didn’t learn from it. (Hi, bosses! So nice to be hired!) Sports = life.

Speaking of education, did you know there’s actually a college class about filling out brackets? It makes a little bit of sense if you step back from the actual basketball of it, since it’s all numbers and statistics and probability and randomness. HuffPo says there are 9.2 quintillion “(a 9, followed by 18 zeroes)” ways to fill one out, only one of them not being wrong, of course. And apparently this season has been wildly unpredictable in any case — “the most unpredictable college basketball season anyone can remember, including one stretch where the No. 1 team in The Associated Press Top 25 changed for five straight weeks,” they say (<– reasonable sports opinion!). So your pool money is almost certainly wasted in any case, don’t sweat it. That’s just the price of forced camaraderie.

And don’t look now, but HuffPo says in addition to laws of probability plus wacky NCAA season, “things get a lot more nuanced the more you read.” Reading! Fuck that noise. Brackets are in already, but here is a post-mortem analysis of the four basic ways to fill out a brackets without really giving a fuck.

At random. This is me, and I like to think I am known in my office pool as “the control group,” in addition to my many other very descriptive nicknames there. (Justin, don’t think I don’t know.) I am not picking teams whose mascot or uniform I like, as doing so would require finding out what their uniforms and mascots are.

Plagiarism. Copy the president. Copy statistical whiz kid Nate Silver (who, note, correctly predicted the outcome of the U.S. presidential race, which was a contest with only two possible outcomes and thus with a random guess having a fifty percent chance of being correct. As we’ve discussed, though, this is totally not the same thing, what with the quintillions of outcomes, and Nate Silver is probably only slightly better than just as helpless as you are). Copy a previous year’s winning bracket.

Loyalty/tribalism. Do you recognize your hometown or home state or a town or state kinda close to your hometown or -state in those names on those lines? Great! Make that state or town win every game up to the championship. Gooo geography yay!!! If your team has a rival that you know of, or there’s a state or city you don’t like for whatever reason, make that team lose: Knock it out of the tournament with earliness proportional to your distaste for that place. It’s your hypothetical world and you control the sports here! Fuck Pittsburgh because you got stranded overnight there once when the second leg of your trip got canceled and those sandwiches where they put the fries on them are great but sooo not worth a night in the Hampton Inn. Fuck UCLA because your ex goes there and you got stuck in LA traffic in your rental car that one time while you were baked out of your gourd and freaked out. Actually, backtrack and slightly unfuck Pittsburgh a little because everyone you’ve ever met from there is cool, so they can win a few games, but they’re definitely losing in, say, the third round, because seriously that mattress was unforgivable.

Rankings. The lower the “seed,” the greater whoever estimates these things estimates to be that team’s chances of winning, and usually this information is right there on the bracket. Nate Silver says these rankings are actually getting more sophisticated which, if there’s one thing the financial industry taught us, it’s that the more complicated the mathematical model used to predict a thing, the basically the same chance that thing will occur! So, seriously, that’s fine, too. You’re still out somewhere between $5-$20. That’s my prediction.

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