March Madness Without a Bracket

When UMBC trounced Virginia Friday night to become the first 16-seed to win an NCAA Tournament game, the internet exploded. It was the biggest upset in March Madness history. Twitter swooned over its new favorite account as the Retrievers busted brackets everywhere.

Except I had no bracket to bust. Because for the first time since I can remember, I didn’t fill one out.

I wasn’t taking a stand against the NCAA’s exploitation of free labor for profit or anything like that. It was just apathy. I didn’t watch a single minute of college basketball before the tournament and wasn’t interested in predicting a winner.

And even though it feels a little weird, my life is better for it.

Anyone can fill out a successful bracket, regardless of basketball knowledge. That’s really the fun of March Madness. Even if you pick winners based on team mascots, you might still do well. Unless you’re me.

Every year I would study college basketball to get a sense of the good teams. And every year I’d fill out a bracket only to watch it crushed by the end of the opening weekend. I never got more than two of the Final Four teams and never picked the champion. It was a futile exercise in amateur gambling. I’d only end up resenting my friends and coworkers who beat me without watching a single game.

In years past, there’s a decent chance UMBC’s upset would’ve pissed me off. I probably would’ve had Virginia winning the whole thing, defeating Cincinnati and North Carolina to get there (both of those heavy favorites lost, too). If the oft-repeated definition of insanity is true—repeating the same action expecting different results—then filling out a bracket is truly mental.

Instead, I’m free to enjoy this year’s tournament action for what it is—pure insanity. Aside from UMBC, we’ve seen three legitimate buzzer-beaters, an insane 22-point comeback, and a nun turn into a superstar. Only seven top-four seeds advanced to the Sweet 16, tied for the fewest ever.

That’s not to say I’m completely free of remorse. When the games tipped off last week, it felt odd not having a stake in the results. I never had any real money on the line but I missed my five-dollar buy-in. I lamented the lost potential for bragging rights. I wanted to open a tournament browser tab with my cursor hovering over the boss button.

And then the upsets starting rolling in. I imagined Bracket Joe steaming with close friends when Oklahoma couldn’t buy a bucket in overtime or Sister Jean’s godliness pushed Loyola into the Sweet 16. It’s all bullshit, he’d say, before snapping at a coworker over his inevitable loss of 20 whole American dollars.

I don’t miss that version of myself. March without a bracket is fine with me.