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March 14, 2011

The Bracketless Bracket

Gelf turns a Bill James concept into a new March Madness tournament.

David Goldenberg

Gelf loves the NCAA tournament. We love the excitement of the early games—especially the thrill of watching scrappy Davids take down major conference Goliaths. We love that once-obscure men with names like Jimmer and Pittsnogle and, well, God, can strap their teams on their backs and for one or two games take the whole country for a ride. And, of course, we love filling out and following our brackets.

In fact, we love it so much that we usually fill out more than one of them. We usually have a pragmatic, favorite-heavy one for when real money is involved and a wishful, fun one that features an underrated mid-major team like Belmont in the regional finals. We'd fill out even more if we could, and we know we're not alone—even the POTUS got in on the fun the last few years.

But the process of filling out traditional brackets becomes routine long before our thirst for vicarious competition has been slaked. So when we heard that the great statistician (and Kansas Jayhawk fan) Bill James had once devised an original, bracketless bracket that lets contestants put underdogs on par with the big dogs, we knew we wanted to try it out. But James's creation was purely an analog-era contest, based on hand-calculations and pencils. So with his permission, we decided to bring it back in an online, scalable, free, and easy to play form.

Bracketless Bracket

The Bracketless Bracket: Pick your favorite team in each seed line.

Here's how it works:

Sign up for your Bracketless Bracket using your Facebook ID. Instead of picking the winner of each game, all you have to do is pick your favorite team from each seed line. You pick exactly one team—no more, no less—from each seed number. You like both Kansas and Ohio State? Too bad. Pick one. Every time your team on the one-seed line wins a game at any point in the tournament, you get 100 points. Every time your 2-seed wins, you get 110 points. You get the picture; if your 16 seed wins a game, you get 250 points. (Play-in games don't count, by the way, because they'd mess up the scoring and because we think they take away from this awesome tournament.) At the end of the tournament, the person with the most points wins.

Why is this interesting?
•Because if one of your Cinderella picks makes a great run, you won't feel stupid for only picking them to win one game.
•Because it's easy to remember who your teams are.
•Because you can't just cop out by picking a higher seed to win.
•Because we're pretty sure no one will pick the same 16 teams.
•Because if your pick to win the whole tournament in loses early on in this bracket, you're not totally out of it.
•Because it's another way to enjoy March Madness.

A few quick strategy thoughts: When you're picking your teams, check out who they could be matched up against in second or third round games as well. Even if you're sure that a certain seven seed will win its opener, you want to pick one that also stands a chance against the two seed in the next round.
Also, keep in mind that mid-major teams in seeds 8-12 generally outperform their major conference co-seeds.

The winner will receive a Gelf T-shirt and a copy of Dave Zirin's new book Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love.
The second place finisher will receive a copy of Bad Sports.
The third place finisher will receive a Gelf t-shirt.

How to play:
Go here and sign up for a Bracketless Bracket using your Facebook ID.
For each seed line, pick the one team that you think will advance the furthest in the tournament.
Come back to check out your score and the high scores throughout the tournament.

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- Sports
- posted on Mar 15, 11

I'd love to do this, but I can't give you access to all of my Facebook information without you outlining some sort of privacy policy. As it stands I'll be granting you access to all of my information at any time, and I need to know if you're going to collect it and what you will do with it if you are.

- Sports
- posted on Mar 15, 11

Boo on this for being Facebook-only.

Article by David Goldenberg

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