If any positives came from the pandemic over the past year, a breather from last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, a/k/a March Madness, might be one of them.
I know I speak heresy to many of you, with the tournament’s cancellation in 2020 being just the beginning of our downward spiral into the pit of having no sports to watch at all, so I’ll go ahead and issue an apology.
But because I have felt an obligation for 20-plus years to fill out at least one bracket (usually more), and I have never (that’s right, not once) recovered any of the funds deposited into various pools, you will have to forgive my bitterness.
I find the entire affair stressful. I would really prefer not to participate, but I know I will feel like an outlier if I don’t. I believe the young folks call that “FOMO.”
I have tried every possible method, whether it’s picking all top seeds, picking no top seeds, picking all the conference champions or picking Cinderella teams, all to no avail.
So rather than dwell on my misfortune, I will today comment on the evolution of tournament- watching into the digital age, along with some anecdotes from my family.
In days not so long ago, we would clip our brackets from a newspaper, carefully making our picks with pencil so we could make adjustments until submission time. When finalized, we would turn over our brackets, along with our cash, to the “commissioner.”
That person would be the friend, work colleague or family member entrusted to keep track of everyone’s picks and distribute the winnings. If we retained copies of our completed brackets, we could follow along as the tournament progressed and could, to an extent, hold the commissioner accountable.
But there was also blind trust involved. How did I know another person had or had not made more accurate picks than I? I had to believe the commissioner was being honest.
We never had to worry about that in our family pool, which for years was run by my late father-in-law. It was a responsibility he took quite seriously.
Because participants were from different parts of the country, we had to mail brackets to him, along with our money. If we missed his deadline, well, sorry, maybe we could play the next year.
Because he was nothing if not tech-savvy, he also permitted faxed brackets. However, although he used email, he frowned upon brackets submitted as PDF attachments.
He would send periodic email updates with rankings throughout the tournament’s duration. His commentary was spot-on, and similar to his seriousness with the deadlines, he spared no feelings as he listed first to worst among us.
Payment to winners was made promptly at the tournament’s conclusion, via check of course, with a written accounting of the number of participants, the total in the pot and how it was distributed. (I only know this from others since I have never collected prize money. Did I mention that?)
A few years ago, when his mind was not as sharp as it once was, he turned over the commissioner reigns to his daughter, my wife.
With her keen accounting skills, she kept efficient records, but was more lenient about late entries, which could be paper or electronic. Word has it she would even front entry fees for her delinquent children.
To my knowledge, nobody challenged her on any of it. (And for heaven’s sake, I knew better.)
Today my son-in-law manages the pool, which includes an array of extended family members and in-laws. I think we are up to about 15 folks.
Having come up in the computer age, he strongly encourages online completion of brackets. He sends a link to encourage that mode of participation, which allows us to track the progress of everyone in our group.
Payment of the entry fee is by Venmo. He makes limited exceptions for the stubborn among us who prefer the old-fashioned way (I won’t name names) and is also available for phone consultation if anyone has a problem with the online link.
It has been suggested he take a percentage for the time he puts into it, but I suspect that would be met with fierce objection, if not withdrawal of some entries. I believe we can prevail upon his good nature for at least a few more years.
We now call it the “Walter Thayer Invitational,” after my father-in-law, and we will miss his and my mother-in-law’s participation this year. Somewhere I hope they’re still completing their brackets and enjoying the fun.
That would be different from their son-in-law, who is still fairly stressed over it all.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband, proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].