Twelve tourney games to play

When the pairings are announced on Selection Sunday, a lot more than 32 games are set in motion. The bracket announcement gives rise to hundreds of thousands of games played by college hoops fans across the country—among friends, workers, strangers and on-line communities.

There are all types of tournament pools. With the most popular variation, you take one stab at the outcome of the 63 games played and hope for the best. Another pool takes you game by game through a slow, agonizing test of character. Mercifully, there’s even a pool based solely on luck, so you don’t have to lay your sports ego on the line.

Tired of losing pools run by someone else? Want to lose one of your own? Try running one of these pools.

Bracket Challenge – The old standby, Bracket Challenge is easy to play, requires only a passing knowledge of college basketball—and will drive you crazy. It is frequently won by somebody who has no idea what a Hoya is. Entrants simply fill out the bracket before games start on Thursday, picking the outcomes of all first-round games, then the outcomes of all subsequent rounds based on their picks.

Correct first-round picks earn one point, second-round picks earn two, third-round earn three…and so on to the champion, which earns six points. Some pools double the points with each round, but that puts a much lower premium on correct picks in early rounds…and essentially requires you to correctly pick the winner. To run a Bracket Challenge pool, go on-line to find a bracket, distribute it to your entrants and make sure you get it back before Thursday.

Crazy Eights – Crazy Eights is ideal for people who: a) can’t help pulling for their favorite school, b) get a kick out of guessing which teams will be Cinderellas, and c) don’t want to sweat over every single tourney game. Players pick any eight teams from the tourney field. Every time a player’s team wins, he or she scored points based on the team’s seed. Here’s how the points break down:

  • No. 1 seeds = one point per win
  • No. 2 and 3 seeds = two points per win
  • No. 4 and 5 seeds = three points per win
  • No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds = four points per win
  • No. 9, 10 and 11 seeds = five points per win
  • No. 12 and 13 seeds = six points per win
  • No. 14 and 15 seeds = seven points per win
  • No. 16 seeds = eight points per win

While easy to play, Crazy Eights requires more strategy than the Bracket Challenge. You have to pick the right blend of favorites and longshots. It’s generally won by someone who knows something about college hoops.

Sudden Death – If you think the Bracket Challenge knocks out too many people too early, you’re probably not going to like Sudden Death. On the other hand, this pool takes more strategy, builds more drama—and is easier to administer. Each round, players pick a team they think will advance. If that team wins, they remain in the pool. If it loses, they’re out…hence the name “Sudden Death.” Surviving players pick another team in the next round that they think will advance—but it can never be a team they’ve picked in a previous round.

The winner is the player who manages to survive through the championship round. If more than one player accurately picks the champ, the tiebreaker goes to the player whose previously-picked teams add up to the lower seed total. If no one survives all six rounds, the spoils go to the player who advanced the farthest…with the same “lower total seed” tiebreaker rule applying. The only tricky thing about Sudden Death is getting everyone’s picks for the “fast-turnaround” rounds. For instance, after first-round games end on Friday night, you’ll need everyone to submit their second-round surviving team by noon Saturday.

Slow Death – Okay…so you’re a little squeamish about the whole idea of sudden death. How do you feel about Slow Death? If you’re fed up with being out of your tourney pool on the first weekend, you’ll appreciate this pool. All you do is pick the outcome of each game, round by round, after the matchups have been determined. You score one point for each outcome you correctly predict. (If you want to weight late-round games more, add an extra point per round.)

If you run Slow Death, you’ll occasionally run into the same problem as with Sudden Death: requiring players to make “quick-turnaround” decisions for the second-round and Elite Eight games. This makes Sudden Death a more difficult pool to administer with paper; e-mail is really the only way to run this one effectively.

Countdown – This is the pool for people who have a hard time admitting that they’re no good at pools. With Countdown, you never have to face the trauma of losing all your teams; you score points every time a team wins, no matter which team it is. Pool players rank teams from those they think have the best change of winning to those least likely to win. Their four highest-ranked teams earn 16 points per win, the next group of four teams earns 15 points per win, and so on to the four lowest-ranked teams (no doubt the No. 16 seeds) with earn one point per win.

The player with the most points at the end of the tourney wins. In keeping with the spirit of Countdown, however, offer a prize to everyone in the pool, even if the loser gets a measly 1% of the pot. If you’re going to run a Countdown pool, create a page or spreadsheet with 4×16 table beside a 6×16 table—the first table for people to provide their teams…and the second table to keep score round by round. You can also add a “multiplier column” between the tables (numbered 16 to 1) to simplify multiplying out winners by round.

Pick-Up – Pick-up is a pool in which it’s nearly as fun to choose your teams as it is to watch how they do. It’s probably best to play with a limited number of people, ideally between six and ten. Players conduct an auction to divvy up the 64 teams. Eliminate the appropriate number of 16 and 15 seeds so that everyone ends up with an equal number of teams.

Use any method you want to put teams up for bid. But here’s the catch, players only have $20—or 20 of whatever—to purchase their teams. It you spend ten bucks to buy the tourney favorite, that leaves you with only ten bucks to buy the rest of your teams.

Players earn money each time their teams win. The later the round, the more money they earn. For an eight-player pool, first-round wins net $1; second-round wins earn $2; Sweet Sixteen wins earn $3; Elite Eight wins earn $4; Final Four wins earn $8; and winning the championship earns $40. Adjust your point scheme according to the number of players in your pool.

Fantasy Madness – Fantasy sports fans will love this pool. Like Pick Up, Fantasy works best with six to ten people. Players conduct an auction to select five players from the 64 teams. You only have $20 to purchase your team. Take turns putting players up for bid until everyone has filled out their five-man roster. The coach whose team performs the best throughout the tourney in four statistical categories wins Fantasy Madness. The four categories are: points scored, rebounds, assists and shooting efficiency (points scored divided by field goals and free throws attempted).

Players’ teams are ranked in each of these categories, with the best team in each category earning ten point, the second best team getting nine, and so on. Players’ points are then added up for all the categories, and the player with the most points wins. This can be a “winner-take-all” pool, or a percent of the pot can be awarded for second and third places.

No Brainer – No Brainer is what it says: a pool that leaves everything to chance and lets you off the hook. It’s the lottery of tourney pools. All you have to do is close your eyes and make your picks. Put the names of all 65 tourney teams in a hat. Take turns picking the names until they’re all gone. If the number of players in your pool isn’t some divisible of 65, eliminate as many No. 16 and 15 seeds as necessary to even things out.

You can either play No Brainer so that the person who picks the NCAA champion wins everything, or you can award points each time players’ teams win. If you decide to go the points route, either award one point per win…or use the graduated scoring scheme of the Bracket Challenge.

Terrific Ten – This game’s sort of like Crazy Eights, but it levels the playing field more and uses a straightforward scoring system to determine the winner. Players pick one team from each of the top eight seeds (one top seed, one No. 2 seed, etc.). Then they pick any two wildcard teams from the remaining No. 9 through 16 seeds. (They can, for instance, pick two No. 9 seeds.) The winner is the person whose ten teams win the most games. The first tiebreaker goes to the player who has more of their ten teams win at least one game. The second tiebreaker goes to the player picking the lower-seeded team to win a game.

PASE Race – You had to figure I’d devise a tourney pool to take advantage of PASE. The rules for this one are pretty easy; the scoring takes a calculator are a spreadsheet. Players pick any ten teams. The set of teams that produces the highest performance against seed expectations (PASE) determines the winner. To calculate PASE, use the following average win totals for each seed (and, trust me, you’ll need to calculate down to the thousandth of a game):

No. 1 seed – 3.359
No. 2 seed – 2.435
No. 3 seed – 1.793
No. 4 seed – 1.522
No. 5 seed – 1.174
No. 6 seed – 1.261
No. 7 seed – 0.870
No. 8 seed – 0.674
No. 9 seed – 0.587
No. 10 seed – 0.630
No. 11 seed – 0.500
No. 12 seed – 0.478
No. 13 seed – 0.239
No. 14 seed – 0.185
No. 15 seed – 0.043
No. 16 seed – 0.000

Let’s say you pick a top seed and they only win three games. Your score for that team would be an underachieving -0.359. Add up the figures from the other nine teams, divide by ten and you’ve got your PASE value.

Great Eight – This game can only be played by eight people. Draw for the draft order and then pick all 64 teams in an eight-round, serpentine draft. The winner is the player whose teams have the best winning percentage in the entire tourney. This means that the person with the ultimate champion won’t necessarily be the pool winner. You need to pick several teams that do well to win.

Spread Dread – This is like No Brainer in that it’s basically luck of the draw. But it’s more interesting because it adds the complexity of point spreads and the thrill of stealing other player’s teams. Spread Dread is best played with somewhere between four and ten people (remove the appropriate number of No. 16 seeds to even the teams out). Players pick all the teams out of the hat. Instead of needing to win the game outright, however, success is determined by point spread. (Make sure to use one point-spread source that everyone can access.) If your team is the favorite and they beat the spread, you keep them and advance. If you have the underdog and they win, you advance with that team. However, if you have the underdog and they lose but cover the spread, you “steal” the favored team. The winner, like No Brainer, is the player who has the last team remaining. Here’s a twist though: you could have the loser in the championship game and win the pool is your team covers the spread.