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Monardo: Entering a bracket pool is distraction from fun (March 7)

Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The approach of March Madness brings the assurance of something new, something unseen or unpredictable. New Cinderellas wear the glass slipper, freshman phenoms enjoy college basketball’s biggest stage before heading to play for the Charlotte Bobcats. Crafty veterans lead their teams deep into the tournament and, ultimately, a new champion wears the crown.

Even in the midst of all the flux, at least one thing remains constant. Every single year, my failing bracket disrupts what would otherwise be a perfectly enjoyable event.

Perhaps giddy with the coming of spring, anxious for the start of baseball or deluded by something else, I eagerly accept a friend’s invitation to join a bracket pool. Before I even pay the entry fee, I am already planning how to spend my winnings. Yeah, I make picks after maybe a half hour of research and have not even seen some of the teams play during the season, but why wouldn’t I win? How hard could it be? Right?

It is simple, really. Pick the Big East over everybody else, pick against the SEC (a small rebellion against my Georgia heritage, I guess), pick at least one five-12 upset, have a Final Four composed of mostly top seeds with maybe a two-seed sneaking in from one region and, of course, have Notre Dame making the Elite Eight.

Gut decisions? Great. Can’t name one player on either team? Fine. No justification is needed for anything.

Although I make many picks with limited knowledge, or even in opposition to known trends and facts, I figure I have as good a chance as anybody else in the field. It is March Madness, after all.

Eventually, after my accuracy dips below .500, the majority of my Elite Eight teams go down or my Sweet 16 sleepers stumble in the second round, I give up on the bracket that I had only several days earlier forged with such hope. Rather than torture myself by calculating possible points left as my bracket slides down the group standings, I abandon the choices that were supposed to deliver to me the Pick‘em title.

Last year, I was spot on for 21 percent of possible points, good enough for ninth out of 10 in a small pool. In 2009, I managed just 21 percent. 2008 must have been a miracle year, because I picked correctly enough to collect 56 percent of the points and finish 221st out of 500 entrants.

Due to my repeated failure, my annual entrance into a bracket pool predates only by a week or so my annual declaration to never create a bracket again. “What is the point?” I ask. I concern myself so completely with my picks that I am unable to enjoy the results as they unfold. Rather than being able to enjoy the amazing individual performances, the buzzer beaters and the jaw-dropping upsets, I am instead engrossed by how my big upset pick barely missed, how the likeable mid-major just bounced my Final Four team and how generally awful my bracket is.

“Next year, I will save my money and skip the whole process,” I vow. No baseless picks, no finger-crossing and no stressing. I will be able to simply watch the basketball. What could be better?

And yet, every year, there I am filling out a bracket, reciting the refrain of “This year is the year, and even if it isn’t, I am only paying a few bucks.” As much as I complain about the intrusion of my printout’s failure on my enjoyment of the hardcourt’s action, I cannot not make a bracket. To avoid brackets would be to avoid an integral part of the insanity of the season. It is, after all, March Madness, a time when the whole sports world revolves around dancing.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.