March Madness Is Here: Everybody Get Your Brackets Filled Out!

Mar 19, 2019

The annual NCAA basketball tournament turns everybody into a sports fan, and most into gamblers by participating in bracket contests.

March - if someone is a sports fan, they have the entire month circled. From selection Sunday, to the highs and lows of NCAA tournament action, this month truly encapsulates why fans love sports.

According to the American Gaming Association, an estimated $10 billion was wagered on the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with only 3% bet legally. But the sports betting landscape could increase for this year’s NCAA tournament, now that eight states have legalized sports wagering.

The most common form of NCAA tournament wagering will involve playing in bracket pools. The bracket pools are especially popular at work, even for employees who aren’t into sports. In a large office, there are many departments – but some may never cross paths. Accounting may never interact with marketing or social media with IT, but March Madness has a way of bridging this gap and helping people build relationships over a mutual interest.

Credit Trevor Darnell

Lawyer Mark E. Terman said in a National Law Review article that workplace wagering is technically illegal, but it goes on anyway.

“Office pools have become a widely-practiced and culturally accepted form of gambling and many law enforcement authorities seem to have little interest in enforcing laws that technically prohibit them,” said Terman. “Many employers view these office pools as a workplace morale booster.”

It’s not only people in office jobs that find themselves sucked into the bracket challenge. College students like to participate as well, with the added hook of their own team playing in the tournament.

William Gurzick, a Michigan State junior, loves betting. He likes placing bets throughout the year, but he truly looks forward to March Madness.

“March Madness is the best because it’s about a sport I love and betting is a thing I love doing. I like having a pull on the game. I can sit down and watch any game and be so invested in it,” said Gurzick. “The music around it, the way I think CBS and truTV broadcast it… it has its own vibe. It’s kind of like an escape from reality during that month. It’s a month of magic.”

Not only is it a month of magic, but it’s a month of feel-good stories.

In last year’s tournament, the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMBC) made history. The Retrievers were a No. 16 seed, the lowest-ranked team in its region. But UMBC shocked Virginia, the top-ranked team in the tournament, marking the first time a No. 16 beat a No. 1 seed.

The odds for UMBC to win that game were +2,000, a probability so low that few would be gutsy enough to bet on it. However, this long shot bet did, in fact, attract quite a few people, including 134 money line bets for UMBC at William Hill sportsbook in Las Vegas. One bettor, at the Venetian, placed an $800 money line on UMBC, which was set at 20-1 odds. UMBC’s upset win ended up placing $16,000 into this fortunate gambler’s hands.

People who follow the tournament, NBA or any basketball, in general, may not know the odds of a perfect bracket. One reason is that it is nearly impossible to accomplish. According to the NCAA, no one has ever filled out a perfect bracket in the history of the modern NCAA tournament, and no one likely ever will.

There are more than nine quintillion ways to fill out a bracket, which is too extreme to even comprehend. Jeff Bergen, a former DePaul math professor, became a celebrity for his calculations on picking a perfect bracket.

According to Bergen, people who guess their picks, have a good chance to not do very well. If someone has a little basketball knowledge, like knowing that No. 1s usually beat 16s, their chances are more like 1 in 128 billion. If everyone in the entire U.S. knew something about basketball and filled out a bracket, then there’s less than 1/4 of a 1% chance that anyone in the U.S. would get a perfect bracket. On top of it all, Berger said UMBC’s upset over Virginia made the odds of a perfect bracket even worse.

Although the odds are impossible, that doesn’t stop students from wagering.

“The benefit of winning games makes me want to do it again. Every time I win, I feel smart,” said MSU junior Joey Manganiello. “Everyone loves to win, that’s human nature. It reinforces your knowledge of your bets when you win.”

What is even more exciting for Manganiello than winning is witnessing how special the tournament is for many people.

“It brings so many people together in their jobs and in school. It highlights so many teams that don’t usually get national exposure, so when kids on teams who are right on the bubble end up making the tournament, it is so special for them,” said Manganiello. “These guys finally get the chance to show off their skills on the national level. It is so bizarre because any team on any given night can do well. In the NBA, the better team is usually going to win. In NCAA, anything can happen.”