Buried under a pile of snow in the northeast? It’s been a long winter. But it’s almost over and you’ve got a great excuse to stay inside for the next few weeks: it’s March Madness.
Playing in an NCAA basketball pool is a rite of passage, nay, it’s all but an American birthright. Even my 12-year-old daughter, who isn’t into sports at all, gets into it. Indeed, making March Madness picks is the granddaddy of sports gambling. The American Gaming Association predicted that Americans would wager more than $10 billion on the 2017 tournament tournament — as compared to less than $5 billion for the Super Bowl — much of it in office pools across the country.
The standard bracket pool is fun in its own right, but the formats below offer several ways to change it up — if an email invite happens to cross your inbox, or if you’re thinking about starting a pool yourself with friends, family, colleagues or all of ‘em.
March Madness Bracket Pools: 5 Exciting Twists on The Traditional Bracket Including Survivor Pools, Auctions and More
Depending on who’s running the pool, you might pick one team to win every day of the tournament, possibly one team per round (round of 64, then 32, or so on). But the point is, you only pick one at a time. And you can only use each team once. The winner is the person who either has the tournament winner left to pick or the team that has gone the deepest. With this pool, you put all of your eggs in one basket every day. And if you lose, you’re out. I’ve played in a version of this pool where you can “double down” if you’re out on the first Thursday and try again on Friday. This may also be called a “buy back.”
The strategy here is to get to the Elite Eight and take your chances. While you don’t want to blow the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds too early, this isn’t a pool in which you’d want to pick the 7-10 game in any hurry. Unless you’re in a pretty big pool and do need to get riskier in order to win it all.
The general goal is to live to fight another day. In other words, survive. And if there’s an early upset, the pot can grow with all those double-downs or the field gets pared down in a hurry. These pools are usually winner-take-all.
Need to fine-tune your rotisserie strategies and skills before baseball season starts? Try a fantasy pool, in which players pay an entry fee and then draft a five-person (or more, depending on who’s running the pool) “team” for March Madness. Just like fantasy NFL or MLB, participants are then assigned points based on how the players perform.
There’s plenty of strategy here because, well, only four teams will keep suiting up until the final weekend. So, do you pick a high-scoring player on a team that may not advance? Or a consistent scorer on a team that could go all the way?
A twist on this pool would be to pick entire teams, rather than players. But in either case, the number of people in the pool is limited by the number of players or teams available to pick. This can be a winner-take-all pool or prizes can be given for first-third places or however you want to structure it.
Auction Pools and “Calcuttas”
I’ve never played in this kind of pool, but it sounds like a lot of fun – not just the buying of teams but the potential for trash talk with your pals if your teams play each other. It’s a pretty simple set-up. Every participant pays an entry fee and then each player is allotted a “bank.” All banks are the same. Prices are set for teams (based on seeding) and participants “buy” teams in an auction. This will limit the number of entrants because there are a maximum 64 participants. In a pool of 16 or 32 players , each team could buy four or two tourney squads.
The strategy question here is whether to spend big on top seeds or spend small for multiple mid-range or lower seeds. Either way, once everyone has their teams, you follow the action and buy the teams you really believe in. You’ll be rewarded for how far your teams advance, so you don’t necessarily need to own the the eventual champion.
The payout is based on a percentage system, so every time one of your teams wins, you get a corresponding percentage of the pot. As an alternative, it might also be fun to assign points to each win (i.e. 1 point for a first-round win, 2 for second round, etc.) and the player with the most points at the end wins the whole pot.
Some pools known as “Calcuttas” also involve auctions with no “bank” or fixed bidding limits. Rather, participants, such as in this very high-stakes pool, may fire away with their bids as they please, likely using statistical models to predict a team’s price against the percentage they might net if the team advances far enough.
My colleague suggested I put a “Confidence Pool” on this list. It’s really more an upset pool. According to my extensive research, a pool of this sort requires participants to rank each of the 68 teams, 1-68, with 68 being the team you think you will win. Throughout the tournament, participants are awarded points based on whether or not their team wins – and you may get more points than your pal for a certain team, depending on how you each ranked them. The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the tournament.
So, this seems like a lot of arithmetic to me, but I also think it means you need to pick upsets, so you get more points, thus the “Upset Pool” moniker. The pool commissioner may ask you to pick the match-ups in every round, as opposed to the entire bracket in advance. In this format, you might get 5 points for every win, plus the difference between the seeding if the higher seed advances. So for example if you pick a 12-seed to beat a 5-seed, you would collect 5 points for the win plus an addition 7 for the difference between the seeds. So, it pays to be risky where there’s upset potential, but not totally crazy like picking a 16 over a 1. (The spreads/odds can serve as a useful guide here.)
Prizes can be structured however you like – winner take all, money for first-third, etc.
Squares PoolHere’s the overview below, courtesy RunYourPool.com (which is a great host site for various pool styles). And you can go here to print out a grid.
If you are familiar with Super Bowl squares, the core concept is the same for March Madness. A 10 x 10 grid of boxes is set up and each row and column are assigned a number from 0 to 9. Just like a Super Bowl Squares pool, each square of the grid can be claimed by a pool member.
- Pool members login and click grid squares to claim them (or offline in an office, just hang up a board and people can write in their initials).
- Grid numbers are hidden from your members until you decide to show them or the tournament begins, whichever comes first.
- Unlike the Super Bowl where there is only ONE game, members’ squares are theirs for EVERY game, starting with the round you choose.
- At the end of every game, you compare the last digit of both teams’ score is to determine a winner.
- You can reward each individual winner with a portion of the pot and/or the players with with the most wins over the course of the tournament.
March Madness is here! Have fun, everybody.