March means Madness. Madness means brackets. And if you’re filling one out, you probably have one of the top teams — say a Virginia, or a Villanova, or a Kansas — going all the way.

That means you’ll have them going through the inevitable tough games that await. Tournament after tournament has told us that there are no easy roads in March. At some point, your high-powered pick will have to sweat it out. Say it’s Duke against a Bucknell. Or Xavier vs. a South Dakota State. Heck, say it’s Virginia vs. University of Maryland Baltimore County, and it’s the mighty Retrievers who find themselves in a game late with a chance to make 16-over-1 history.

If you pull for David, good for you.

If you’re still pulling for Goliath, we need to talk.

There’s nothing like this tournament. There’s drama everywhere in sports, but nowhere else is it channeled in quite this way. Games throughout the day, in all reaches of the country, overlapping each other. A shot falls and a dream season crashes to a halt. Another drops, and a Cinderella run is miraculously extended. Fans go crazy and grown men cry. Even though we’ve seen it all, we’ll see something we’ve never seen.

What’s a good way to numb yourself to this excitement? Let your bracket do your thinking for you.


Don’t get me wrong. Filling out a bracket is a tradition and a wonderful part of the March experience. It’s a good way to get warmed up for the excitement, you learn the field, you compete with peers and you take a crack at a perfect bracket, something that has never, ever been done. You can take it seriously and do the best you can, or you can take it lightly and put your alma mater in the Final Four. It’s your bracket, and you do what you want.

The problem comes when your bracket determines how you watch the games and which teams you root for, and you get so caught up in being right that you forget to get swept up in a moment.

This happens all the time in fantasy sports. Fans swear and curse during dramatic plays because they don’t involve their players. Imagine if the miraculous Stefon Diggs touchdown catch for the Vikings in the NFL playoffs had happened during the regular season? There would be people rooting against it because they played the New Orleans defense. How often have you heard Patriots fans say “I don’t know who to root for. I’m playing the Denver defense.”

What? Rule of thumb: Fan first, fantasy second.

Which brings us back to Madness. Just as your fantasy team can run how you watch the games, your bracket can affect who you take in the tournament. You see and hear about it every year. When you get historic upsets, like No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast stunning No. 2 Georgetown in 2013, or No. 11 George Mason reaching the Final Four in 2006, you can hop onto Twitter or any comments section and find fans expressing their disgust toward the damage it dealt their bracket. Sometimes they’re trying to get a laugh. But sometimes they’re serious.

Don’t put yourself in that position. If a 16 is trying to bring down a 1, root for history. Pull for a second-round game between No. 12 Davidson and No. 13 Buffalo, not one between been-there, done-that Kentucky and Arizona. If No. 14 Bucknell and No. 2 Duke are playing for a spot in the Elite Eight and you find yourself rooting for the Blue Devils, take a second to reconsider.


Some people sidestep this dilemma altogether and avoid filling out a bracket, allowing them to enjoy the games without any conflicting emotions. That works, but it’s also a bit extreme. Brackets are fun, and there’s no better feeling than calling an upset.

But if you didn’t call it, allow your inner fan to prevail over your inner analyst. Imagine if No. 14 Montana stuns No. 3 Michigan. Would you really want your memories of that all-time moment to be lamenting a loss for the Wolverines?

There are exceptions. Say you’re a Kansas or North Carolina fan or alum, or Duke or Kentucky or any other giant in the dance. By all means, root for your team. Fanhood comes first.

But being a fan of the sport and the tournament implies pulling for drama. Drama means comebacks, buzzer-beaters and upsets. A straight-chalk tournament may do wonders for your bracket, but it will hardly be one you remember in the years to come.

Cheer the bracket buster. Don’t fear it.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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