Why You Didn’t Pick a Perfect Bracket This Year, and Never Will


By Isaac Herman

Every year, millions of hopeful sports fans around the world fill out their NCAA March Madness brackets, which, usually incorrectly, predict the winners of every game in the long anticipated 64-team tournament. Everyone has their unique way of designing their perfect bracket; some crunch the numbers and find out the statistical probability of every possible outcome, while others choose teams to advance simply based on their mascot. However, one fact, which undoubtedly shatters everyone’s hopes and dreams of fame and success every single year, remains unchanged: Never, in the history of the NCAA Tournament, has anyone picked a perfect bracket.

The sad truth was realized this year by many within the first few hours of the tournament after the devastating, or amazing —depending on how you look at it— upset of the three seed Iowa State Cyclones by the fourteen seed UAB Blazers. Only five percent of brackets in the ESPN Tournament Challenge (11.5 million participants) picked the Blazers to advance past the first round. Unfortunately, the premature departure of the Cyclones, who had a 33/1 odds of winning the entire tournament, completely destroyed almost everyone’s bracket, including mine.

What makes it so damn hard to pick a perfect bracket? What makes Warren Buffett so confident in the impossibility of picking a perfect bracket, that he promises $1 billion (yes, billion with a “B”) to any person who manages to do so? The answer lies in the numbers.

According to math professor Jeff Bergen of DePaul University, the odds of picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. I am confident that a majority people have not even heard of the number “quintillion.” But, don’t worry, because there is still a chance. Professor Bergen calculated these odds by looking at each game as a coin-flip. Essentially, if every game was a 50-50 chance, those would be your odds. However, if you have even the slightest bit of knowledge about college basketball, Bergen projects your chances to be 1 in 128 billion, a far more optimistic estimate. For example, it is important to know that a sixteen seed has never beaten a one seed. However, as witnessed by all in the UAB upset over Iowa State, very few games are sure bets.

There are many things that are more likely to happen you than picking a perfect bracket: Winning the Mega Millions Jackpot, becoming the President of the United States, drowning in your own bathtub, being attacked by a shark, and even giving birth to identical quadruplets.

Despite the odds stacked against us, something drives us every year to create a bracket, in hopes of the impossible. “I’m telling you, this bracket here is a winner. Numbers shumbers. I can feel it, I just know this is a perfect bracket.” Within the first few hours of every tournament though, an ESPN notification pops up that crushes our aspirations for glory. So what compels to compete every year, if we know that we will undoubtedly fail? Maybe it’s just for good old fashioned bragging rights, or the opportunity to win $50 in the annual office pool is just too good to pass up (beware: it is a rule of thumb that those who know the least about college basketball have the best chances of beating you). Regardless of what happens this year, I wish you all the best of luck in next year’s March Madness, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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