Pooling The Game

Well, the NCAA Tournament is over, and your annual foray into gambling with your officemates has ended — in abject failure, as usual.  You’re feeling a bit wistful about it.  In fact, you acknowledge, you don’t really care all that much about the money element of the office pool — it’s the social interaction, and the trash talking, and the possibility of getting bragging rights, that’s the real attraction.  It’s been fun following your brackets and talking to your friends about how you’re doing, and you’ll miss that.

hand-of-the-king-pin-replicaSo how about scratching that itch by getting together with your friends and combining the concepts of office NCAA pool, fantasy sports league, and everyone’s favorite big-budget quasi-medieval/sword-and-sorcery/dungeons-and-dragons HBO show?  Except, unlike the NCAA pool where you’re trying to pick winners of basketball games, in this pool you’re trying to select the characters who are most likely to get killed and earn your team valuable points.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Game of Thrones Death Pool.

It’s straightforward.  Identify fellow rabid fans of the show, figure out how many of your pals will be in the pool, and set a time for your draft.  Come up with a list of characters (there’s a lot of them, by the way).  Figure out what you’re going to kick into the kitty and how you’re going to allocate the money — whether it’s after each episode, or at the end of the season, or both.  Decide how many rounds the draft will go.  Prepare a grid that people can use to keep track of who’s drafted whom, and appoint a commissioner — being a Game of Thrones pool, perhaps Archmaester or High Septon is a better title — who will keep track of the scoring, provide a brief recap, and let players draft from the list of remaining (and new) characters to replenish their roster and replace the characters who’ve been killed.

And then get together with your friends, have your draft, and enjoy an adult beverage or three while you’re deciding whether Brienne of Tarth is more likely to get knocked off early in the season than, say, Varys or The Mountain.  There’s some strategy and skill involved, because even if you’re reasonably sure that a character is going to get rubbed out at some point — like, for example, Cersei — if you think they’ll last through the first few episodes you might want to hold off on drafting them in favor of a more minor character that could easily meet their maker in an earlier episode.

We had our Game of Thrones Death Pool draft last night, and it was a lot of fun.  We each are kicking in $45, points and money will be allocated after each episode and at the end of the season, and the ultimate winner will get an authentic knock-off Hand of the King pin purchased from Amazon.  There were five of us, and we had five rounds in the draft.  I drafted second and am pretty happy with my team, which consists of Melisandre, Qyburn, Baric Dondarrion, Yohn Royce, and Gilly.

Let the GOT Death Pool begin!

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Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Sports

Last night two bad things happened:  the Ohio State Buckeyes went down to defeat in the NCAA Tournament, and during the game Mr. Sports emerged.

The Buckeyes’ loss wasn’t unexpected; they’d gotten whipped by Gonzaga earlier in the season and were the underdog.  Ohio State gamely fought back from a 15-point deficit at the start of the game to briefly take the lead in the second half, but ultimately Gonzaga pulled away.  It was a good game, but also one where, from the standpoint of Ohio State fans at least, it seemed like every rolled-out layup and rattling in three-pointer and missed-shot carom just favored the Bulldogs.   Sometimes that happens in sports.

1281989935452That’s where Mr. Sports came in.  That’s the name I’ve given to the harsh, foul-mouthed, angry personality that sometimes takes over during TV sports broadcasts when one of my favorite teams is playing in a big game.  Mr. Sports wants his teams to win so badly that any adversity or bad break causes him to surge to the forefront and launch into vicious tirades about referees, opposing players, the fates, or even the opposing coach’s wife or Mom and Dad celebrating an impending win.  And, because college basketball is a game where so many bounces or debatable foul calls can happen, it’s prime territory for Mr. Sports.

Last night Mr. Sports was pretty bad.  Kish and I had decided to watch the game together, but after Ohio State fell far behind and was struggling to catch up, one of Mr. Sports’ loud and profane outbursts caused Russell’s dog Betty to leap off the couch, and Kish decided to retreat upstairs in disgust.  Mr. Sports then watched the rest of the game by himself, fulminating about the unjust fates.  After the game ended I went back upstairs, feeling sheepish and stupid about my loss of control in front of my disappointed wife and the two dogs.  Recently I’ve gotten better about keeping Mr. Sports under wraps — combining age, presumed maturity, and avoidance strategies like just not watching much college basketball this year — but sometimes the power of Mr. Sports is simply too strong.

The Atlantic recently carried an interesting article about the positives and negatives of being a sports fan, and concluded that the benefits outweigh the negatives.  And I know from personal experience how thrilling it is when one of your teams wins it all.  But it is embarrassing when Mr. Sports thunders out from my id and starts raging at the TV, and it makes me feel bad to disappoint my baffled wife, who just can’t understand how sports can cause such a fundamental change in behavior in the blink of an eye.

I’m 60 years old, and I’ve still got some growing up to do.

Totally Imperfect

Somebody, somewhere, somehow calculated the odds of completing a perfect NCAA tournament bracket at 1 in 9.2 quintillion.  A quintillion is a billion billion, or 1 followed by 18 zeroes.  Numerically represented, the odds of perfection are 1 in 9,200,000,000,000,000,000.

screen-shot-2018-03-16-at-11-51-24-pmThis year, again, no one is going to beat those overwhelming odds.  After the end of the first-round games in the 2018 NCAA tournament, no perfect brackets remain among the millions of brackets that were submitted in the five major NCAA tournament challenges sponsored by the likes of ESPN and CBS.  Virginia’s shocking loss to the University of Maryland Baltimore County — the first time in NCAA tournament history that a number 16 seed beat a number 1 seed — knocked out the few remaining perfect brackets.  Virginia’s loss probably caused a lot of people to toss their office pool brackets into the trash can, too.  (Two of my friends are diehard Virginia fans.  As a Cleveland sports fan, I can imagine the excruciating mental anguish they are experiencing right now and am deeply sympathetic.)

At the other end of the spectrum, one ESPN bracket challenge entrant managed to achieve a different kind of perfection — going 0-20 in the first 20 games.  Alas, his or her bid for reverse perfection went awry when Nevada beat Texas.

The NCAA tournament is a fun time for both serious and casual sports fans, and I think it’s a good thing for the country, too.  In a country as large and diverse as America, there aren’t many unifying events, but the NCAA tournament, and the submission of office pools and pick sheets, is one of them.  Just don’t expect perfection.

The Buck Back Period

The NCAA Tournament is officially underway.  We’ve already seen our first upset, and seen our first would-be Cinderella fall just short — and I’ve already won my first buck.

george-washington-portrait-one-dollar-bill-close-up-usd-american-united-states-currency-money-concept-49021242When the NCAA Tournament is on, that means the Buck Back competition is on, too.  I’ve written about the Buck Back since the first days of this blog, back in 2009 (!), and it hasn’t changed one bit since then.  Eight contestants put in $8 each and draft 8 NCAA Tournament teams using a serpentine draft format.  Each time your team wins a game, you win a buck back.  Knowledge of college basketball is strictly optional.  Taunting and trash-talking, on the other hand, is mandatory.

This year I went to one Ohio State game and watched all of about 15 minutes of other college basketball contests, so I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at last night’s draft.  I actually flipped a coin to decide on two of my choices.  But I picked third in the draft and my first selection, Kansas, blew out their 16-seed opponent.  So, I’ve won a buck.  Now we’ll have to see whether I can win another.

Long live the Buck Back!

Dancing In Columbus

It’s been a fantastic NCAA Tournament so far.  Most people would conclude that it will be impossible to top yesterday’s action, which set a record for close games — with one of them being Ohio State’s nice overtime win over VCU.

IMG_4981Those of us who live in Columbus, however, think that today will be even better than yesterday.  That’s because Ohio’s capital city is hosting the Big Dance with four games today and two games on Sunday.   West Virginia beat Buffalo in a great game this afternoon, Maryland is playing Valparaiso as we speak, and Oklahoma plays Albany and Providence plays Dayton tonight.  Leaving work today I saw a lot of fans of the two night game teams sporting their gear and exploring our downtown.

It’s great for Columbus to host these games, and it’s especially nice that they are being played in the Arena District, which is one of the cooler areas of town.  It does a good job of showing Columbus off and making them realize that our city has a lot to offer.  With a great facility like Nationwide Arena, and increasing hotel options, Columbus boosters are hoping that we can get more of these kinds of events.

Enjoy the Big Dance, folks!  We’re glad you’re here.

Work Through Game, Feel Less Pain

I had a busy day at work today, with a series of meetings and conference calls. I was so focused on work matters that I didn’t watch a second of the Ohio State-Dayton NCAA Tournament game, or even follow it on my cell phone or computer. That’s a good thing, because the Buckeyes lost a heartbreaker, 60-59, on a last-second shot.

I’m sorry that the Buckeyes lost, of course, but the fact that I didn’t watch the game and agonize over every turnover, missed layup, and defensive breakdown meant that I avoided most of the awful fan-pain that I would have endured otherwise. Instead of feeling like someone had kicked my guts in when Dayton made the winning shot and the Ohio State careers of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. came to an end, the game was sort of like something that happened in an alternative universe — a bit more abstract, and a little less real.

When March Madness rolls around, employers question how much work their bracket-obsessed employees are really doing on Thursday and Friday. I would suggest that employers take the bull by the horns, recognize the predominance of NCAA pooling, and encourage their employees to schedule lots of meetings and events that will occupy their time and their minds when weekday games are on. Distract yourself, and don’t risk the terrible, real-time suffering! The employees can always record the games of their favorite team, as I did. If you learn that your team won its game, you can go home, crack upon a frosty beverage, and enjoy their game at your leisure. If you learn that your team has fallen, you can shake your head sadly and quietly erase the debacle without watching a second of the recording.

It’s not a bad approach for the ardent sports fan.

Hoping To Hold Down The Flyers

The Buckeyes learned today that their (hoped for) road to the Final Four begins in Buffalo, where they will play the Dayton Flyers in an in-state matchup that’s filled with intrigue.

The Buckeyes are a sixth seed, as I predicted. Members of Buckeye Nation are outraged, but you can’t lose twice to Penn State and to Indiana and hope for a high seed. I think a sixth seed is entirely fair, and I also get tired of the whining about OSU getting no respect. I hope the players on basketball team, at least, understand that they need to earn respect by playing well and winning a few games.

That’s not going to be easy, because Dayton is a very good team, as well as being a great basketball school with a rich heritage. The Flyers play in the tough Atlantic 10, where they finished 10-6 and lost a very close game in the A-10 Tournament. UD has size and scoring. In fact, their leading scorer is Jordan Sibert, a former Ohio State Buckeye who came in as a heralded recruit and left when he wasn’t getting a lot of playing time. He’ll be looking to prove something in this game — and that’s the first intriguing storyline. The second is Dayton coach Archie Miller, who was on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State. He’ll also be hoping to make a statement.

But the biggest bit of intrigue is that OSU is playing UD at all. In Ohio, the Buckeyes are the big dog, and teams like Dayton yearn for a chance to show they can go toe-to-toe with the big boy, and win. If the Flyers can stay close — and with this Buckeyes team, that seems like a virtual certainty — the pressure on OSU will become immense as the game progresses. It should be a very interesting game.

If you want to win the NCAA championship, you need to beat good teams. Ohio State has drawn one of those good teams for its first round matchup. On Thursday, we’ll see whether the Buckeyes can bring the Flyers down to earth.