That’s how long it took before I was out of the running for Warren Buffett’s Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. It all seemed so possible at first. My first two upset picks, Harvard and Pittsburgh, were well on their way to making me feel like a genius and Oregon and Syracuse were dispatching their competition with savage efficiency. All I needed was for Ohio State to get it together and take care of this silly little team from Dayton.
But they didn’t take care of that silly little team and with one game in the books my bracket was 0 and 1 in picks and my chances at a billion dollars evaporated as if it had never been.
In reality, it might as well have never been. The college game has become less and less predictable as potentially great college players cut their careers shorter and shorter in favor of the NBA. The most generous estimates on the odds of actually picking a perfect bracket in the lead up to the tournament were somewhere in the range of 7.4 billion to 1.
That of course didn’t stop me from dreaming up what my life would be like if I suddenly was getting an extra 40 million dollars of Warren Buffett’s money every year (The prize money was set to be paid out in 40 million per year increments). If I’d somehow be able to go on living my life in Brooklyn and whether or not I’d have to get a bodyguard in the wake of the frenzy of becoming the “luckiest man alive”. How much of the money I should donate to charity annually to constitute being a philanthropist or, at the very least, a decent human being.
It was absurd how much time I put into that bracket. Reading everything I could find about possible upsets and likely winners. Making picks, going back, changing picks, fully aware I was completely wasting my time. It was all a ridiculous pipe dream, of course, but one that was too much fun not to consider the possibility.
That is what March Madness is all about, after all: pipe dreams and possibilities. Despite the hordes of screaming fans, very few people have vested interest in any school’s success in the tournament beyond picking them in their bracket. My own school, Providence, did manage their first tourney appearance in a decade but their time was but short as they exited after a close defeat to UNC in the first round. Long dead are the days of UCLA dynasties and Phi Slamma Jamma juggernaut teams, the big money of the NBA has seen to that. If anything, disdain for NCAA basketball is at an all time high as corruption seems to seep through every crevice and whole conferences cannibalize themselves in a frenzied cash grab. But fans keep coming back every March, and they don’t need Warren Buffett to put up a billion dollars to do it. All they need are pipe dreams, and just the slightest possibility that they could come true.
It only takes a minute to fill out a bracket. No matter how little you know or care about the college game. No matter how much the quality play has dropped off over the years or how “tainted” big money makes it, how imperfect the system is for finding the best team, the bracket is just too good to pass up.
Even when it all inevitably falls apart, we’ve gained so much appreciation for what we’ve seen we can’t look away. That is the real value of the bracket. We play for the dream of greatness for ourselves and we watch for the dream of greatness for others.
When it is all done, we count the days until next year and the possibilities are endless once again.