The NCAA tournament is famously hard to predict. So much so that Warren Buffet partnered with Yahoo! to give away $1 billion if someone nailed a perfect bracket. Your chances of winning that money are 1-in-9.2 quintillion. That number is reached when you take 9.2 billion and then multiply it 1 billion times. Now that the tournament is over, let’s look back at how quickly everyone lost.
By 2:30 PM on the second day of the tournament (still in the first round), there were only 16 perfect brackets left. Sixteen. This point in the day was marked by Duke’s loss to Mercer, with only 2.4% of the brackets submitted having picked the Bears over the Blue Devils. Combining that upset with others like Stephen F. Austin over VCU, Dayton over Ohio State, Harvard over Cincinnati, and North Dakota State over Oklahoma and you get only 16 people with a chance at a billion dollars.
While 16 perfect brackets remained at 2:30 PM, that number shrunk down to 1 by the end of the night. The last man standing was Brad Binder, but there was one caveat to his bracket – he filled it out on Yahoo, but did not enter it into the billion dollar pool. Sounds crazy, soon enough he was out too. In the end, no one came close. No one could even correctly predict the first two rounds of the tournament, much less every game going through the national championship. Memphis getting the win over George Washington eliminated the last three people eligible for the billion dollars, and it was all over 25 games into the 32-game first round.
The bracket that did come in first place, taking home one of the tidy $100K prizes that were awarded, got 8 first-round games incorrect. The money doesn’t go to whoever holds out a perfect bracket the longest when it comes to the smaller prizes, so because he correctly predicted 6 of the Elite 8 teams, all Final Four teams, and the national champion UConn Huskies, he won. Over on ESPN’s challenge, the champion did pretty much the same except he got 7 of the Elite 8 teams correct.
What Yahoo!, Quicken Loans, and Warren Buffett did was amazing. They offered a tangible prize to a non-existent winner. I couldn’t find the numbers behind it, but I’d guess that this was the first time in a while Yahoo had more people sign up for its challenge than ESPN. They made people believe they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, and we all kind of held out hope.
Want a chance next year? It looks like the trick is to stop concentrating on those first-round games, because the perfect bracket isn’t going to happen. Just give up on that dream and go backwards from the National Championship and Final Four you’re taking. Think back at the person in your office pool who was ahead after the first round… did he/she win? Probably not. The first round is a crap-shoot for the most part, and while it’s fun to watch Cinderella take down one of the powerhouses, it’s not going to win you that office pool or $1 of Warren Buffett’s money.