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November 22, 2014
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My Bracketastrophe

Once again it’s that time of year again: March Madness.  And ever since I can remember, I’ve filled out a bracket for the tournament.  “Selection Sunday” was last weekend, when 68 teams were slotted into positions in the grandiose, single-elimination men’s college basketball tournament.   Every year millions of Americans try to guess the outcomes of all the individual games comprising the big postseason competition.

Every year I’ve been one of those millions, spending hours on hours meticulously researching team, trying to cleverly pick upsets and pondering how a particular mid-major might match up against some Big Ten squad.

I’ve filled out brackets for pools with friends or family, or just for the fun of seeing how closely I can anticipate the results.  The fervent day or two of research provides entertainment and an attachment to that printed PDF copy, as well as the chance to prove friends that, for the moment, you’re better at picking the winner of college basketball games.

Additionally, doing a bracket provides an intent rooting interest in each and every game, when otherwise there may not be even a hint of concern.  For eleven months of the year, I could honestly care less about North Carolina Central University or Wichita State.  Yet the annual ritual of filling out a bracket gives me an emotional investment in the minute details, like the relative health of their point guard’s ankle.

Inevitably, however, completing a bracket only leads to frustration.  With more than 9.2 quintillions possible bracket combinations, the chances of actually getting all the games right are, well, slim.  Even when I’ve won pools, my bracket has still been riddled with numerous wrong picks.  Furthermore, trying to predict all the games compromises the joy I’d have otherwise in small, mid-major schools wreaking havoc on traditional powerhouses.  Last I would’ve been overjoyed by Florida Gulf Coast University’s run to the Sweet Sixteen, if they hadn’t knocked out my Final Four pick Georgetown in the first round.

If only I didn’t have so many arbitrary attachments to random games, it would make sense that I would be able to enjoy the overall spectacle as whole a lot more.  Appreciation for the sport of basketball alone should be enough to provide an interest in all the games.  Theoretically, not filling out a bracket should mean that I can enjoy the madness of the tournament without be unavoidably frustrated and haunted by minor outcomes.

It would also mean my rooting interests would develop organically.  Instead of rooting for the team I think will win, I could root for the team I want to win.  It should be so much more fun to support a team based on likable players or entertaining playing style, rather than calculated assessment of who should win.

I know that, at least once, I should resist doing a bracket and see if I like it better.  And also, I know that I will cave.  Following sports isn’t rational.

For all the reasons I mentioned before – from having seeded interests in teams and individuals I’ve never heard of to researching Providence’s strength of schedule – I knew from the second I received a text invitation to join a friend’s March Madness pool, I would be spending the night filling out a bracket and procrastinating schoolwork.

It’s a collective addiction that I, and millions others, have; the chaotic frustration of red lines and “X’s” eventually overtaking one’s bracket is somehow enjoyable when shared, a source of common understanding.

In between the writing of the last paragraph and this one, I saved the first draft of my bracket with a sense of pleasure, uncertainty, satisfaction and anxiety, and a knowing that millions of others were simultaneously feeling the same way.

As with supporting a professional or collegiate team in general, filling out a bracket is not done out of logic; the chances of coming out on top are slight.  In the end though, it’s the shared, bumpy journey that brings people together that’s a higher victory.

Print your own bracket here, or from another sports website of your choice.