Brackets: too much madness

They call it March Madness because anything can happen. Or so college basketball fans would have you believe.

Hard-core hoopsters love to talk about the unpredictability of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, gushing about thrilling buzzer-beaters and unlikely Cinderellas. But there remains one aspect of the tourney for which any sort of upset is not tolerated. As crazy as they may appear, the collegiate hoops faithful can be awfully obstinate when it comes to their beloved brackets.

The fans’ bracket-based conservatism was exposed on Selection Sunday when it was revealed that the selection committee had apparently misplaced the squad from Brigham Young University. By assigning the Cougars the 12th seed in the South region, the NCAA scheduled the team to play on Sunday, March 30 should they reach the Sweet Sixteen. Playing on Sunday is not something BYU players are allowed to do, given the school’s Mormon tradition. Thus, the NCAA had an embarrassing scheduling crisis on its hands. Scrambling to avoid disaster, a contingency plan was devised by the selection committee that called for BYU to move to the Midwest region should they advance to the round of 16. There they could avoid playing on Sunday. The tournament was saved.

The fans and media, however, were set aflame with outrage by the decision. If BYU were to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and move to the Midwest, the holy brackets would be shattered! No one could win the office pool if teams were switching regions! An all important aspect of tourney-time would be lost! Las Vegas would dissolve into the desert! Prognosticators would become homeless! It would make the tournament totally unpredictable!

Wait a second. Hold up. Unpredictable? Isn’t that the adjective people ascribe to March Madness with glowing pride? How did that suddenly become a bad thing?

The truth of the matter is, too many fans now base their entire tournament experience around their brackets. Too often do they root for an overbearing four seed over an endearing 13 because they have money or pride banking on Goliath’s survival. Many even root against teams they normally bear allegiance to because of their bracketological guesstimations. Scores of sports ticker-ites are blinded to the great performers and performances by the desire to see their predictions come true.

Certainly, not all fans behave this way. But when CBS analyst Clark Kellogg laments on-air that his bracket is busted, and when ESPN.com proclaims that the country is actively rooting against BYU in order that the bracket prognosticating may continue, something is wrong. Everyone is entitled to predict the outcome of any sporting event, but when prediction becomes more important than appreciating the games, things have gone too far.

I filled out brackets, as I have always done, and I must admit I was at first enraged at the scheduling fiasco just like everybody else. But the BYU dilemma caused me to pause when I found myself rooting against lovable underdogs like Holy Cross and Gonzaga merely because I had picked their behemoth opponents to go deep into the tourney. Further introspection made me wish that the Cougars had gotten a chance to destroy all the brackets. Sports fans would have received a real treat: a chance to re-examine college basketball without the cloud of bracket-mania blurring our vision and slurring our words. But Connecticut vanquished the players from Provo in the first round, thus allowing the tourney to journey forth unchallenged by sporting self-reflection.

Self-reflection. Isn’t that part of what Mormons do on Sundays, when they’re not playing basketball?

Maybe the selection committee didn’t make a mistake after all.

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