Wednesday, March 20 2019 9:37

Feeling Lucky? Join the March Madness!

Written by Zack Malet
March 2014

How to Run an Office Pool and Maybe Win a Billion Dollars

March Madness office pools—based on the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Championship—are the most popular office pools around. If you’re not already in an annual pool, this is the year to join. Quicken Loans, backed by Warren Buffet, has offered a big incentive: $1 billion for a perfect bracket (that’s 1 chance in 9.2 quintillion, though).

Every March since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, March Madness has become an increasingly anticipated sports event. The excitement of 63 win-or-go-home games played over three weeks—with rounds named Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four—consume the country’s attention. Even non-sports fans join the water-cooler chatter.

Now more than 50 million Americans are involved in March Madness pools. According to an MSN poll, office pools lead to an estimated $2 billion in employee productivity losses. Maybe that’s another reason pools are not exactly legal in most states—check with your HR department. And check to see if there’s already an office pool before starting one—you don’t want to step on any toes by creating a competitor.


Bracketology 101

Here’s the short course. How are the teams chosen, you ask? The tournament’s 64 brackets are filled with 32 automatic bids given to the champion team of every college conference, then rounded out by the 10-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The Committee also determines “seeds.”

First seeds—there are four—are those thought most likely to win; the 16th seeds, most likely to lose. In the 1st round of the tournament, the 1st seeds play the 16th seeds, 2nd seeds play the 15th, and so on to form four regional brackets that feed into the final Championship Game.

But don’t bet on the top seeds always winning their bracket. The seeding allows lower-regarded teams—often from smaller schools—a shot at upsetting powerhouse teams, like Duke, Kansas and Syracuse. Last year, Philadelphia’s La Salle University became a household name after defying the odds and beating Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss on their way to the Sweet 16.

You’ll find many resources to help you fill out your bracket confidently—or, at least more knowledgeably. Drexel Hill native and ESPN College Basketball analyst Joe Lunardi shares his project tournament field in his web-column “Bracketology.” Some of the most relevant advice is offered on “Selection Sunday,” March 16th, when the tournament field is announced and experts analyze each match-up.


Starting Your Pool

There are two main ways to run an office pool: (1) manually tallying scores on printed brackets from newspapers or downloaded, or (2) using an online website that automatically calculates scores and determine standings. Websites such as ESPN and CBS Sports provide printable brackets that show seed, round, game date/time, and location.

Some things to consider: Running a pool by hand introduces human error, uses lots of paper, especially if you print copies after each round. Internet pools, in contrast, make score-keeping fast, save trees and time, and minimize errors. Just saying.

Running a pool on most internet sites is free and gives you extra features. CBS Sports shares its expert picks, while ESPN lets you stack your picks against the President’s bracket. Yahoo Fantasy Sports provides a good user interface, and Facebook lets you compare your scores to your friends’.

Whether tallying printed brackets or running an online pool, be very clear about the scoring system you will se. CBS Sports and Yahoo allow you to give different weights to each round, but some pools prefer to count all winning picks equally.

Each person’s point total is found by multiplying the number of correct predictions of winning teams by the weight, if any, for each round. For example, in a pool with weighted brackets: 1 point for a correct 2nd round winner, 2 points for a 3rd round winner, 4 points for a Sweet 16 winner, 8 for the Elite 8 winner, 16 for each Final 4 winner, and 32 for the right champion pick.

The tie-breaker is generally the score of the final game. The person with the most points is the lucky winner.


Deadlines, Payout and Tips

Once you’ve determined the format and scoring, next set a firm collection date for money and filled-in brackets from all participants. Most pools disregard the first 4 play-in games, instead choosing, Thursday, March 20th before the first early afternoon tipoff, as the deadline.

Also, make sure your payout rules are set and communicated. It doesn’t have to be winner-takes-all. Typically 1st place gets three-quarters of the pot and 2nd place gets the rest. Payout will be determined after this year’s National Championship game on April 7th in Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

I’d love to provide advice to defy the 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of a perfect bracket, but having been bested by my mother for the last three years, all I can say is, enjoy the madness!

Oh, and don’t pick the Final 4 based on vacation destinations—currently, Wichita State and Syracuse are undefeated. Besides, the winner of your pool will probably be someone who picked the teams based on mascot height.

Zack Malet is a member of the ESPN Sports Programming & Acquisitions Team.

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