Never mind the bracketology

3/17/2012

The madness has begun.

The madness has begun.

College basketball fans in the Sunflower State couldn't have asked for much more from this year's NCAA men's basketball tourney field, with Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State securing spots.

Kansas and K-State also posted first-round wins, giving their fans more to enjoy in the run to the Final Four in New Orleans.

Not everyone has a favorite school in the Big Dance, of course. Still, as happens every year, interest in the tournament gets a huge boost due to office pools and other friendly competition among people who think they can pick the winners.

As a result, millions of tournament brackets have been filled out by hopeful hoops prognosticators.

And of those, we would expect not a single correct entry. Not one.

For those who don't play and wonder how it could be so difficult, mathematicians say you would be far more likely to win the lottery or be hit by lightning than to come up with a flawless bracket.

So, it's no wonder bracket contests offer huge prizes for perfection, including The Telegram's, in which an entrant in the nationwide competition could collect a cool $1 million for picking every winner.

The Telegram has presented its NCAA tournament bracket challenge in different variations over the years, evolving from a print-only contest with brackets in the newspaper, to one that now also allows people to play online and via their smartphone, tablet or other mobile device — change driven by a society that wants sports scores and other information available instantly.

Another fun feature of our contest would be the panel of VIP Pickers. Thanks to those brave sponsors who agreed to put their efforts on the line for the public to see.

Of course, one VIP entrant would appear to be a bit out of place.

Our dog Birdie, a Chihuahua-pug mix, earned a spot in this year's VIP lineup by winning The Telegram's office pool — an in-house contest for employees and their families — in 2011. Her "strategy" then and now generally involves picking teams with dog and bird mascots, and shunning cats — something any self-respecting dog would do.

Her bracket correctly had the Connecticut Huskies winning it all last year.

If Birdie could talk, she might say winning was the most exciting thing to happen to her since she was adopted from the local animal shelter.

Then again, maybe not. She did sleep through the championship game, after all.

And she's off to a rough start this year, in part because she could not warm up to the Wildcats of Kansas State, and the defending champion Huskies were swept up in a storm of Iowa State Cyclones.

Such a strategy may seem laughable, but isn't all that unusual. Many people involved in the bracket madness — especially more casual sports fans — devise methods ranging from choosing winners based on uniform colors to which mascot would win in a fight. Some draw team names out of a hat.

And why not? Those systems often work as well if not better than simply choosing the higher-seeded teams to win. According to Bookofodds.com, the odds of picking a perfect bracket by always going with the better-seeded team are about 35 billion to 1.

But who's counting? We all might as well just settle in and enjoy the rest of the games, and hope our brackets aren't completely busted by the time the winning team cuts down the nets.

Just don't be surprised to see a dog or bird mascot celebrating in the end.

Email Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.

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