Posted:March 25, 2007

When the 99th Percentile is Not Good Enough

Like millions of other Americans, I love college basketball and believe the NCAA tournament to be the best of the annual sporting events. This year has been no exception with some of the best play and closest games within my decades-long memories of the event (even though our family alma mater, Duke, lost in the first round). As of the time of this writing, two of the Final Four teams have been decided (Ohio State and UCLA) with the last two slots to be determined later today. Goooood stuff!

Also, like millions of Americans, I also enter various pools vying to pick the various round and final winners over the tournament’s six rounds of play. This collective obsession has caused many to comment on the weeks of lost productivity within the American workforce at this time of year. Bring it on!

I remember fondly some of those prior years when I’ve won some of those office pools and the accompanying few hundred bucks. But, as with so much else, the Internet has also changed how mad this March Madness has become. There are more than 2.9 million entries in ESPN’s $10,000 tournament bracket challenge, with other large competitions occurring for Facebook (~ 1.6 million), CBS Sportsline (~ 1/2 million), Sports Illustrated, and literally dozens of other large online services. (Note these are games of chance and are free to enter; they are different than wagering money bets in informal office betting pools.)

According to R.J. Bell at Pregame.com, some 30 million Americans in total are participating in pools of various kinds, wagering about $2.5 billion, both numbers I can easily believe. Your chances of picking a perfect bracket with all correct winners? How about 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1. Or, as Bell puts it, “if every man, woman, and child on the planet randomly filled out 10 million brackets each, the odds would be LESS than 1% that even one would have a perfect bracket.”

Well, I’ve actually done pretty well on the ESPN pool to date this year, ranking in what at first sounds like an impressive 99.1 percentile as of this writing. But, while scoring in such high percentages on standardized tests is pretty cool, it is humbling in these tournament pools. I only have more than 25,000 entries better than mine and 0% chance of winning anything! (I also assume that my percent ranking will drop further as the final results come in. BTW, though there are tens of thousands better, my bracket is shown below.)

Of course, one shouldn’t enter these bracket games with any expectation other than to increase the enjoyment of watching the actual games and having some fun with statistics. For better odds, play your office pool. Or, better still, try starting up a company that eventually gets venture backing and becomes profitable. At least there, your chances of winning are much improved to say, 1,000 to 1.

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When the 99th Percentile is Not Good Enough

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Like millions of other Americans, I love college basketball and believe the NCAA tournament to be the best of the annual sporting events. This year has been no exception with some of the best play and closest games within my decades-long memories of the event (even though our family alma mater, Duke, lost in the […]

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One thought on “When the 99th Percentile is Not Good Enough

  1. Well,

    Just for posterity, I note that in the end — and as I suspected I might when I first posted this item — I got creamed in the final bracket standings. Ohio State lost to Florida in the finals, 84-75. In the last rounds, I only got 50% of the Final Four correct, one finalist correct, and the winner incorrect. Oh well! :(

    My final ranking was at the 75.1 percentile, with a mere nearly 3/4 of a million picks better than me. Nothing like being competitive! That’s what makes all of this so fun; there’s always next year. Congratulations, Florida, on a history-making repeat win with all five starters!

    Mike

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