No perfect brackets

Consider these numbers:

¯ 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

¯ 1 in 2.4 trillion.

¯ 1 in 128 billion.

What, you are likely wondering, could possibly be the meaning behind these figures?

If you are among the millions of Americans who have filled out a bracket for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, those odds are important. Depending on the expert you believe, they represent the chances of constructing a perfect bracket, of successfully picking the winners in each of the 63 games that make up the tournament.

Most mathematicians and experts will tell you that to complete a perfect bracket, you will have to overcome odds that are against you to the tune of 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

In reality, though, your chances might not be that bad, at least according to Duke’s Jonathan Mattingly. In 2015, Mattingly assured us that most fans had a 1 in 2.4 trillion chance of coming up with that perfect bracket. Jeff Bergen, a mathematician at DePaul, figured the odds were even better, placing them at 1 in 128 billion.

None of these calculations takes into account that there are actually 67 games in the tournament. That includes the First Four games that were played Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, but those games are play-in games and are not considered to be a part of the tournament for the purposes of filling out your bracket.

Those are some pretty long odds, and, as you wake up this morning and begin to look forward to today’s games that will bring the first weekend of the tournament to a close, it’s very likely you already have been reminded how truly imposing they are.

It’s very unlikely that those nearly impossible odds have kept anyone from participating in a bracket pool. In fact, according to WalletHub, 24 million people participated in such pools last year, with 38 percent of them saying they weren’t sure whether what they were doing was legal or not.

To add a little more perspective, there were 60 million brackets completed in 2018, which is a little less than half the number of the 129 million votes that were cast in the 2016 presidential election.

A lot of money is waged on March Madness, according to the Washington, D.C.-based personal finance Website, which always has some interesting numbers to share on a wide variety of topics. It’s estimated that $10 billion was wagered on the 2018 tournament, and, of that total, $9.7 billion was bet illegally.

That’s changing for residents of the Tri-State Area, who can now enjoy an afternoon or evening at the sportsbook at Rivers Casino or Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, for instance.

And, if you still don’t think a lot of money changes hands surrounding the tournament, the survey reports that twice as much money is wagered on March Madness as is bet on the Super Bowl, and the average wager is between $20 and $50.

Some of the first-round games were played Thursday and Friday afternoons, a period when a significant number of people were expected to be working.

Not surprisingly, it’s estimated that the average employee will spend six hours watching games, and 56 percent of millennials said they would be willing to miss a deadline to watch a game.

If you have always thought that food, drink and sports just seem to naturally go together, the numbers show you are right, with a 20 percent increase in beer sales and a 24 percent increase in chicken wing orders during March Madness. Fans of losing teams tend to turn to food to ease their disappointment — the study shows there’s a 19 percent increase in pizza orders after losses as opposed to wins.

All of those numbers aside, the tournament is about the games and watching some pretty good basketball. It’s also a sure sign that spring is here and a reminder that the return of baseball is close — the Pirates open the regular season Thursday in Cincinnati — and playoff time is just around the corner for the Penguins and the rest of the National Hockey League.

No — your bracket won’t be perfect. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the games.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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