Do March Madness brackets matter if there is a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of being perfect?

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The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament has been around since 1939 and became the current field of 68 teams in 2011 and the women’s tournament started in 1982, according to the NCAA. For basketball fans and those who could not care less alike, filling out brackets to predict the winners of the 63 total games played after the ‘First Four’ games is a common competition during March Madness, with over 20 million brackets being filled out for the men’s tournament this year, according to ESPN.

In the history of March Madness, there has never been a verified bracket that has been 100% correct throughout the entire tournament. If there has never been a perfect bracket, is there still a point to filling out one? I think that a lot of the fun from making brackets and competing with friends, family and even celebrities is fueled by the fact that nobody will be perfect. According to ESPN, brackets can earn a maximum of 320 points per round, earning points for each game that is predicted correctly. Because early incorrect guesses can lead to automatic losses down the line, upsets in which a lower-seeded team beats a higher-seeded team can ruin brackets only a short time into the tournament. The NCAA’s seed system, which ultimately decides teams’ placement in the bracket, is determined by the Selection Committee, according to the NCAA. The possibility of upsets—whether correctly or incorrectly guessed—makes filling out brackets and competing with others fun. 

There is a dark side of the competitiveness that comes as a result of brackets. According to The Sports Notebook, players such as Royce White, who played for the Iowa State Cyclones from 2011-2012, received death threats after his team lost to the Montana Grizzlies in the 2012 NCAA tournament. The pressure that is placed upon these athletes is already immense throughout their regular season games; they are playing at a high level, and fans often expect players to always perform their best, which is not reasonable. This pressure is increased dramatically during March Madness when people are betting large amounts of money on the success of these young players. In this year’s tournament, 1-seed Purdue lost to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, becoming the second ever 1-seeded team to lose in the first round to a 16-seed, according to PBS. Following the loss, fans were furious, calling them “frauds” on Twitter, according to Bleacher Report. While this loss busted my bracket as well, I think it is unfair to bash student-athletes on social media for losing a game. 

A more positive aspect of the widespread influence of people making brackets is the increased coverage of March Madness games, especially for the women’s tournament. Although there is a dramatic difference in the number of brackets made for the men’s and women’s tournaments—over 20 million and over 2 million, respectively, according to the NCAA—I think that the excitement surrounding brackets is one of the reasons for increased ratings for women’s basketball games. According to Front Office Sports, the 2022 women’s championship game peaked at 5.91 million viewers, an 18% increase from the championship game from the year before. Overall, I think creating brackets and putting them up against others’ is a fun way to compete and enjoy basketball. Although according to the NCAA, the likelihood of someone creating a perfect bracket for someone who knows nothing about basketball is 1 in 9.2 quintillion, but there is still a thrill in trying to get as close to perfect as possible and watching as your bracket is either broken or strengthened with every game played.

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