Bracketeering: Why You Don’t Actually Know What’s Going to Happen, and Why That’s Fine

I’m writing this just as 12-seed North Dakota State is finishing off Oklahoma on the first day of this year’s March Madness. Just like I thought they would. It’s right there in ink, behind a magnet, on my refrigerator. I believed in the Bison and they repaid me. That was really kind of them, considering I know nothing about any of their players, or what conference they play in. (half the time, I don’t even remember that their Dakota isn’t even the one with Mount Rushmore in it). Yet, I said to myself, “that sounds like one of those upstart tournament teams we see every year that ‘hustles,’ ‘plays the right way,’ and has multiple three-point specialists with generic names.” That was it.

After looking it up, I discovered that my beloved Bison are the class of the Summit League. In league play, they face teams such as the Fort Wayne Mastodons and the IUPUI (and on his farm he had some) Jaguars. Other than deceiving us by naming their teams to make Indiana sound much more exotic and dangerous than it really is, these schools don’t really have much to offer the world of college hoops right now, but somehow their brethren in Fargo have gained temporary relevance. Finding out about the Mastodons’ and Jaguars’ existence hints at the true enjoyment to be gained from the first few days of the tournament: it’s the things that you’re likely never going to hear about again that were good for a few seconds of amusement when they came up. You watch the games obsessively to see if your darts hit the board, and you find out that some power forward from Harvard shoots free throws with one hand or some coach at Texas Southern harvests the silk for all of his ties from the coterie of worms he has living in his den or something. It’s the journey sometimes, isn’t it?

Seeing as there are billions of different ways to populate your bracket, chances are that yours differs in substantive ways from those of the people in your pool or social circle. Your selections, however arbitrary and idiotic their basis may be, are yours, and may even be yours alone in the entire world. There aren’t many things you can say that about. Except maybe that exhaustive vinyl collection of Art Garfunkel solo work, but that’s on you. So when some far-fetched portion of your prediction comes to pass, you feel like you’ve found D.B Cooper and showed The Brain how to take over the world at the same time. You feel like you should have served on King Arthur’s court because you could tell him when all the foreign warlords were going to invade. All because you picked a nunnery’s house team to beat Duke. We get it.

I’m the same way, and I suppose everyone who fills a bracket in must to some extent as well. People absolutely love taking credit for their own dumb luck. Compare it to the time that I won my team a bar trivia night with a complete guess. Unless one of my teammates is reading this, I’m taking the fact that I didn’t actually KNOW what animal the Prohibition Party used as a mascot to the grave. Nobody can say FOR SURE that you’re not a genius if you’re nailing the games. And nothing’s stopping you from decrying the idiocy of your friends whose nearly random selections have gone somewhat less successfully. For a couple of weeks every year, you have a chance to be a master prognosticator. You can gloat. You can gloat in your Dick Vitale voice that absolutely everyone will always despise, no matter what. Even if you’re one who took the sick day that broke the camel’s back to watch the games, you can be the guy.