March Madness: Competition!

Like any self-respecting Englishman, I grew up with a pretty dismissive attitude towards American sports.

Baseball? ADHD cricket, with more hot dogs and less history. Ice hockey? An excuse for angry Canadians to punch each other without being arrested. ‘American’ football? Rugby for pussies. Basketball? Slightly more enjoyable than watching a pendulum swing back and forth.

Fast forward to 2015 – one formative relationship and a shitload of ESPN later – and I’m a committed Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots and Celtics fan, with an annual subscription to MLB Gameday, regularly impure thoughts about Tom Brady, and a Chrome Bookmarks folder called ‘Stats Porn’…

…which brings me to the point of this post. I’ve grown to love baseball, ice hockey and American football…basketball still leaves me cold. I can appreciate the skill, but essentially most games are either blow-outs, or come down to five minutes of excitement as the pay-off for two hours of back-and-forth boredom. And the players are just really tall.

There’s one exception to all that. One insanely lucative, morally dubious, statistically orgasmic exception: NCAA ‘March Madness’. The annual NCAA tournament combines everything that’s best and worst about sports: rampant commercialism and the exploitation of young athletes, offset against almost unlimited gambling opportunities, sociable competition with friends and colleagues, genuine underdog stories, and a wealth of complex data available to help sort the Cinderellas from the pumpkins.

Once a year, Americans – including the President – fill out their brackets, and then sit back to watch the action unfold, live on national TV. As a Brit soaking it all in from afar, I’ve always taken an absurd amount of pride in beating the Yanks at their own game.

This year, I want to put my money where my mouth is.

This year, I have created my own ESPN Tournament Challenge group, and I invite you all to join it here (password: competition). If you do so (and for the benefit of basketball newbies) you’ll have the chance to predict the winner of every match in a 64-team tournament, from the First Round through to the Final: the more correct picks, the higher your score, and the better your chances of beating me (and Obama).

Sound daunting? It shouldn’t.

For all that I’d love to claim it’s a scientific, stats-driven process, succeeding in a March Madness pool is a lot like winning the lottery: you can do all the research you like, but ultimately you’re reliant on forces entirely outside your control, the biggest of which is pure, dumb luck.

So here’s the deal. Enter a bracket into my March Madness group, and if you beat my final score I’ll donate £5* to a charity of your choice – or, if you have a blog and would prefer this ‘prize’, I’ll write a <500 word piece of flash erotica, using the name of one of the competing teams as the title.

The closing date for entries is 2pm GMT / 10am EDT / 7am PDT. To be honest, even if you just flip a coin for each match-up, you have a) every chance of beating me, and b) absolutely nothing to lose! So get picking…

*Up to a maximum of £80.

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