College Basketball

How a bracket can be used for both the NCAA Tournament and everyday life

March 17

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist 

Chances are, it has been almost exactly 24 months since you filled out a bracket — not long enough to forget how to perform one of the more simply satisfying annual duties of a sports fan, but sufficient for a momentary pause to recall your favored strategies of years gone by.

There are all kinds of ways to do it. Never let anyone tell you that choosing teams based on colors and mascots is less worthy than picking with statistical analysis. However, there is also the curious reality that for some people, myself included, the wait between brackets hasn’t been so long at all.

The overall field of bracketology has become part of the social lexicon exclusively because of March Madness. The lure of trying to perform something no one has ever done — fill out a perfect bracket — keeps tens of millions coming back for more each year.

Yet believe it or not, there are those with a secret penchant for using brackets for a purpose other than determination of the respective merits of Abilene Christian and Morehead State on the upset-meter.

I’m one of them.

I employ brackets for all kinds of life choices. It is extremely basic: compile a list, rank a few seeds, and away you go. While economists tut each year about how much time – and therefore money – office pools cost business, for me the concept of personal bracketology is a measure of time-saving efficiency.

And it's a lot of fun.

I’ll use a bracket to decide which household chore to get after first, an exercise that alleviates only part of the drudgery. When loading the laundry prevails, there is solace to be found in the fact that it’s marginally more enjoyable than doing the dishes – a truth factually proven because the dueling activities went up against each other in the final.

Be warned, however. This practice can simplify life, but there are no guarantees that it will make you a better person. An acquaintance, who was recently single, charmlessly used the system to rank his favorite past girlfriends and stressed over what it meant when he installed his ex-wife as a No. 1 seed.

My moment of shame came when I quietly advised another pal to not invite someone extra to his birthday celebration to preserve the neatness of the eight-person pool tournament planned.

Mostly, it’s all very innocent. Which restaurant from which to order delivery was a particularly popular bracket in lockdown times. Bracketology also helped me pick my most recent car and has often helped whittle down potential vacation destinations ... in some faraway time when taking trips was still a thing.

Brackets can be used for pure entertainment or a dive into nostalgia. During my life, I have lived in 16 houses, and not so long ago I bracketed away to decide which was my all-time favorite. Through a love for travel and the fortune of a job that requires it, I’ve been to 64 countries. The number has been stuck at 64 for a few years now — perhaps because I’m afraid that adding a new one would ruin the symmetry.

A bracket is different than a list, as it forces direct picks between rival options instead of a general choice of preference, and the results – as with any good bracket – often come as a shock. At the start of the pandemic, I bracketed my favorite characters from "The Last Dance," with Jerry Krause somehow staging a remarkable run to the Final Four, mainly because I felt sorry for him.

If you enjoy filling out a tournament bracket – which everyone does until some mid-major blows it all up or a buzzer-beater crushes your hopes of finishing above the office know-it-all — you’ll enjoy this.

I wrote about this habit once before for a previous employer. Within hours of publication, I was inundated with messages from viewers about how they narrowed down movie choices, ranked play-by-play commentators and even (definitely not advocating this one) picked which fad diet to try next.

You can use brackets for decisions both trivial and monumental, but if the intention is truly to save you time and not waste it through distraction, some kind of a shot clock is necessary.

Dinner decisions or the selection of your favorite beer need no more than 30 seconds. For choices with somewhat more life-altering gravitas, a longer period is surely a must.

Beware, the results might not be quite what you expected.

A friend once used a bracket to choose the name of his firstborn son, and after 6-seed Caleb won in a major upset, he still wonders – a decade later — if "rooting for the underdog" had a subconscious factor in the picks.

Maybe a bracket isn’t appropriate for everything after all.

But it is certainly appropriate for right now because March Madness is back, here and to be enjoyed. There are brackets to be filled out, and fortune willing, they won’t sit eternally empty like last year’s.

It’s as confusing as ever and maybe more so. Rick Pitino is a 15-seed, Duke’s not around, defending champion Virginia is trying to figure out whether it can play, and Gonzaga might be the most under-the-radar undefeated team in recent history.

Thankfully, there are all these games to be watched, and with so many people’s work location shifted to home, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier to watch them.

Before you blink, it will be over and done with once more, all those hopes and dreams washed away, with some Cinderellas having been anointed but only one team whose most recent result wasn’t a defeat.

And soon enough, you’ll be there in early April, with all the excitement and thrills having passed for another year, trying to figure out what to do next to occupy your time.

There's only one thing to do: Make a bracket.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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