Selection Sunday is over. The field is set. Let the gambling begin.
People all across the country are poring over the NCAA basketball tournament bracket, hoping to correctly pick which of the 64 teams will advance through the tournament to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and then, finally, the championship game.
This year, the number of “March Madness” brackets filled out is expected to top 70 million, according to the American Gaming Association. The gambling industry trade group estimates that this number will top the number of votes cast for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, or any other single presidential candidate in the 2016 general election.
In 2012, 66 million Americans voted for President Obama while 61 million voted for Mitt Romney, according to the Federal Election Committee, and no presidential candidate has ever received 70 million votes though Obama came close in 2008 with 69 million. (Speaking of Obama, even he participates, announcing his choices on ESPN in years past).
The possibility of making all the right picks also inspired billionaire Warren Buffet to hold a contest two years ago, offering $1 billion for a completely correct bracket. According to the data analytics website FiveThirtyEight, the odds of picking a 100 percent perfect bracket were one in 7,419,071,319. Needless to day, no one even came close to winning the $1 billion prize.
This year, Buffet’s contest offers $1 million every year for life, if a person correctly predicts the Sweet Sixteen round correctly, Yahoo Finance reports. Unfortunately, it’s only open to employees of Buffet’s companies.
In regular bracket pools, whoever makes the most correct picks wins, and as history has proved, the winner need not be a basketball fan at all. Last year, the owner of the only perfect bracket through the round of 64 was a 26-year-old sign language interpreter from Cleveland, according to ESPN. So what did he do to make his perfect picks?
” ‘Nothing,’ he said Saturday, after his first two picks of the day, UCLA and Kentucky, advanced. ‘I actually haven’t watched a full game this entire year.’
“Malachi [ESPN agreed to keep his surname secret] got much further than anyone got last year, as no entry on any of the major websites survived the round of 64.
“He said his brother called him Thursday morning to remind him that he only had 15 minutes to fill out a bracket. He filled out two.
” ‘I knew I had to have some upsets, but I can’t really give you specific reasons as to why I chose certain teams over others,’ he said.
This is part of what makes the NCAA tournament so engaging: Anyone can win — both in bracket pools, and in the tournament itself, which is cherished for its upsets and Cinderella stories.