College Basketball

Wilder: Goodbye, silly March Madness bracket. I hardly knew ye

March 20

By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist

What started as a joke quickly became all too serious. 

Last week, I filled out a men’s NCAA tournament bracket using only the worst possible logic. It was truly absurd. I chose Oklahoma because I like the musical, Rutgers because I live in New York and want the best for New Jersey, Georgetown because I am strangely fascinated by Patrick Ewing. I chose Grand Canyon to win because the grand canyon is a majestic natural treasure. 

Very few of my picks had to do with the actual ability of the basketball teams. 

I did this for three reasons: 1) to prove how difficult it is to predict March Madness games 2) because I thought it was funny, and I hoped it might make a few people laugh 3) to protect myself. 

"Protect yourself, Charlotte?" you might be wondering. "How on earth could you be protecting yourself by being an idiot online?"

Great question. Most of the time the answer is simple: I couldn’t be. Posting anything on the internet is generally a terrible idea, and I do not recommend it. If you Google me, the search results are a self-created disaster.

But this time, I was publicly hedging. The fact is that I care way too much about my bracket, and I get irrationally upset when it ultimately crumbles after a few upsets or non-upsets that I didn’t choose correctly. I berate myself endlessly for the picks I changed at the last minute that ended up being wrong. I was devastated when Ohio State committed a bajillion turnovers and lost to Oral Roberts, which would be a bad name for toothpaste and is a worse name for a college.

This level of emotional intensity can suck the joy out of March Madness. Upsets are supposed to be fun, but a few years ago (before I became a UVA fan), I couldn’t even enjoy the 16-over-1 upset that UMBC pulled off against the Hoos because I picked Virginia to win. I was more upset that my bracket was destroyed than I was thrilled to watch a historic game.

So this year, I figured that maybe, if I took an approach that didn’t make sense, I wouldn’t be upset when it didn’t work out. And maybe, because my bracket always falls apart when I try, not trying would mean it would somehow miraculously work out. 

Spoiler alert: It didn’t. My silly bracket is toast.

Now, you might think this means that I am currently not upset. You might think that I felt fine when the bracket I made as a joke flamed out in the first round. But I didn’t — I became emotionally attached to the idea of Georgetown, helmed by Patrick Ewing, making it to the championship. 

This is, of course, an absurd idea, which became clear as Georgetown lost to Colorado in a massive blowout. I shot myself in the foot because in a bracket I filled out with the intent of having zero emotional attachment to the process, I ended up picking something incredibly unlikely and then convincing myself that there was a chance it would happen.

In my defense, the first round of the tournament so far has been filled with some wild upsets. Besides the toothpaste school beating the Buckeyes, Oregon State beat Tennessee. Rutgers, that plucky school from New Jersey that had not won a tournament game since 1983, did in fact topple Clemson.

All of that happened Friday, giving me hope that the upsets might continue Saturday, starting with Georgetown. 

But I shot myself in the other foot because I ended up filling out a bracket using basketball knowledge even though I said I wouldn’t. In my secret serious bracket, I have Gonzaga winning it all. The Bulldogs are still in it, but because Ohio State and North Carolina both blew it in the first round, my bracket is sitting in the middle of its pool and will likely continue to sink.

I know no one cares about my bracket. But I’m telling you this in hopes that it might make someone out there feel a little less alone. 

I cannot be the only one who gets far too invested in March Madness. I can’t be the only one who checks her bracket every five minutes. There have to be others out there who are staring at their picks, saying, "Why did I pick Purdue? I don’t even like Purdue. I wanted the Boilermakers to lose but for some reason changed my bracket at the last minute to say they’d win." 

Something that makes it even more messed up how much I care? I have only $20 riding on this. TWENTY BUCKS!!!! I don’t know how people actually gamble on the NCAA Tournament without having multiple heart attacks per game. Then again, maybe all of you are currently in cardiac arrest.

Anyway, I had to put this out into the world. Because the moral of the story is that once you become invested in March Madness, it’s impossible to extract yourself. No matter how hard I try to not become obsessed, the tournament wraps its tentacles around my heart and squeezes until early April.

The only solace I have is that my silly bracket is donezo already, so instead of agonizing over micro-level picks each day, I can just kick myself on a macro level for the rest of the tournament. 

Sports is pain. And as I sit on my couch for the 36th hour of basketball during a global pandemic, when there is nothing else to do, I welcome this beautiful heartache with open arms.

Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and co-host of "The People's Sports Podcast" for FOX Sports. She's honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.

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