I left my job at the newspaper a few days ago and the guy who took over my old office e-mailed to say a former colleague had dropped by looking for me.
Why sure, I thought, the former colleague — a female, it turned out — wanted to share her pain, wistfully remember the previous occupant of said office, and generally mourn my departure as a writer, friend, beloved co-worker, and journalism’s gold standard incarnate.
Nope, she wanted to know who’d be running the NCAA tournament office pool.
Sniff. Makes me proud. Now that’s a legacy. But responsibly operating a first-class office pool wasn’t a completely selfless act. Running the office pool allowed me to study the sociological curiosity that is homo predictus up close and personal. It was a regular anthropological expedition every March.
And over the years I’ve developed a few theories as to why everyone and his brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, mom, dad, cat, and neighbor’s in-law’s second-niece twice-removed can’t resist filling out a bracket.
Theories? Well, I’ve developed one theory: Americans like to gamble, especially if it’s vaguely verboten. Indeed, the wink-wink illicitness of bracketology adds to the bonding experience. The NCAA pool is the modern-day version of bath-tub gin.
More importantly, I’ve deduced several distinct types that sociologists may want to categorize for future study. Gleaned from years of collecting sheets and hearing every pre-excuse and brag in the book, here are the eight types of people who play office pools:
(1) The Expert. He fills out multiple sheets, usually no fewer than four and sometimes as many as 10, always listed numerically.
(John Doe 1, John Doe 2 and so on.) He studies schedules and rosters.
He’s memorized players’ statistics, game tendencies, class schedules and favorite colors. He knows what RPI means and how it affects seedings. And, yes, he is always a he. In bracketology, he’s called predictable. In life, he’s called single.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: From the moment he finishes penciling in his bracket after watching CBS’s overblown Selection Show until approximately one hour before tip-off. To keep himself honest, he hits the Mute button when the CBS studio host throws it to Billy Packer for analysis.
Odds of winning: Good if the tournament is as reliably dull as he is.
(2) The Homer. More loyal to his team than many of the players and coaches. Always picks quote, Hiz Boy-eez, unquote, to win it all, regardless of, well, anything. They’re Hiz Boy-eez. On his bracket, if they’re in, they win. Which means he rarely does. Because an odd trait of The Homer is that his team is hardly ever a North Carolina, Duke or Connecticut but a sure-to-disappoint Missouri or Arkansas or, of more recent bandwagon-jumping vintage, Gonzaga.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: 20 minutes. One minute to ink in Hiz Boy-eez to the championship game, and 19 minutes to figure out the Poor Sucker who’ll make it through the other half of the bracket to play ‘em.
Odds of winning: Once in a lifetime — which he’ll never let anybody forget.
(3) The Shy Regular. A quiet type. Never caused any trouble. Kept to herself. Only seen driving to church on Sunday. But, boy-oh-boy, the ink’s still wet on that tourney bracket in the paper when she’s turning in her picks, neatly filled out and with final, tiebreaking, championship score written boldly and clearly in black magic marker.The most confident sheet of the pool. She’ll correctly pick at least one interesting upset per round. And, no, she’s not always a she — but she usually is.
Estimated time filling out sheet: 45 minutes. (She’s been preparing for this all season.)
Odds: Promises to donate winnings to charity, and always keeps her promises.
(4) The Chicken-Scratch Kid. Remember the kid in school whose homework was always a wadded mess that looked as if the dog really did eat it — then spit it out? He’s now the bracketeer whose sheet is so messy, so illegible, so dog-eaten that you can’t tell if he picked Kentucky or Gonzaga in that second-round game. (Uh, is that a G or a K, a Z or a T?) Certain to argue every call after the fact. Regularly claims the biggest upset of the first day. Always forgets to include a tiebreaking final score beneath his proposed championship match-up.
Also forgets name and entry fee till after the first round games. The Kid really deserves detention, or at least a note sent home to mom.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: The few minutes he takes scribbling in his brackets on the dashboard of his car the morning they’re due.
Odds: Unfortunately, not bad. The Kid will talk his way into at least one upset he probably didn’t pick.
(5) The what-th’-hecker. This bracketeer cuts across all demographic groups. Male, female, straight, gay, uptight, laid back, sports fan or degenerate gambler. Doesn’t matter. They play for the same reason they might choose plain over peanut: Whim. The upshot of the what-th’-heckers is that they pick some of the most fabulous upsets in the tournament. Especially in the first round. Their downfall: They’re also the ones who’ll pick a Niagara to beat UCLA.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: 3-4 minutes, depending on facility of ink pen.
Odds: Superb if another George Mason makes the Final Four.
(6) The Seed Sower. Like the casual bettor at the racetrack who always picks the horse with the lowest odds, S.S. always picks the team with the higher seed. Result: No stress in filling out his/her (always) single bracket and four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. The Sower is playing for second- or third-place money, not the big payday and certainly not the thrill of victory. What’s the fun in picking the favorite?
Estimated time filling out a sheet: However long it takes to tell the Office Pool Godfather — that’d be me — that he/she wants every high seed in every game.
Odds: Solid bet for show money.
(7) The I’m-doing-it-for-a-friend (wink, wink) multi-sheeter. A.k.a., The Shadow. Prone to aliases. Known for quietly selecting the out-of-nowhere darkhorse. He had George Mason last year. Done in by longshot that just misses. Like, say, George Mason last year.
Often gets up for third or fourth but can take pride in all his sheets doing well. Uh, that is, all his friends’ sheets doing well. Brackets mysteriously appear in the pool usually just seconds before deadline.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: Anywhere from minutes to days.
Odds: Best bet in the tourney.
(8) The Straggler. As with every other part of his/her life, he/she is late. He/she begs for more time. He/she pleads for forgiveness. He/she promises to pay tomorrow. He/she means every word. He/she really needs to get it together. He/she has much bigger worries than this silly pool.
He/she never wins.
Estimated time filling out a sheet: The time it takes to pencil in winners while also trying to write that rent check that’s late again.
Odds: About the same as that rent check not bouncing.
– Kane Webb, a former editorial writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a writer who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.