Tracy K. Lorenz ...

The Bracket

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is upon us (in fact I’m watching it as I type), and it’s grown to a size I doubt anyone could imagine. Prior to the Michigan State / Indiana State (Magic vs Bird) game in 1979 the tournament was largely unnoticed and kinda played second fiddle to the NIT.  I believe only the final game was televised and that wasn't shown live.

I have a few memories of the NCAA. I went to the first round games the year Christian Laettner hit his game-winner against Kentucky, and I went to the final four in 2016. I was in a bar in Grand Rapids the night Austin Peay beat a heavily favored Illinois team. A guy in the bar must have been an Illinois fan because as soon as the game ended he left the bar, slammed the door, and the full-length piece of glass in the door shattered, exploded really, and the guy never even turned around to look, he just walked directly to his car.

Then there was the year I had Indiana going all the way and they lost in the opening game at noon. I was eliminated before I got home from work, my interest waned a bit after that.

But the landmark moment came in 1983.

I was fresh out of college and working for a large company in Grand Rapids. It was a steel company so 95% of the employees were guys and we liked to bet, we bet on anything that moved.

Anyway, the NCAA Tournament was coming up and we couldn’t figure out a way to get money involved. We thought about drawing team names out of a hat but that didn’t really have a good vibe because, technically, one guy could end up with the entire final four.

So five guys, Steve Coutre (engineer and computer whiz, Illinois), Ken Fusee (purchasing agent, GVSU), Mitch Van Houten (engineer and computer whiz, Michigan Tech), Jim Hathaway (engineer, MSU), and I sat down in the lunchroom and tried to figure something out. We went through a variety of scenarios and decided to give everyone a sheet and have them pick the winner of each game. You got a half point for picking winners, one point in the next round, etc., and six points for the finals.

Steve made a computer program to track the scoring and we were off. I think we had ten players the first year. Last year, using the original computer program, we had somewhere around three hundred participants (my Mom won).

Now I’m not saying those five guys in that lunchroom invented the bracket pool, all I’m saying is none of us had ever seen one before, or heard of one before, or knew anyone who had ever seen or heard of one before and, coincidentally, the pool that exists now across the nation is the EXACT same format we used thirty-six years ago.

I just wish there was a way to forensically track the history of the bracket pool, a pool that has created a whole industry, thousands of jobs, and made a sport exponentially larger than it ever was because let’s face it, there’s really no reason to watch 90% of the games if you’re not in a pool.

If there were a way to track it I wouldn’t be surprised if it spiraled back to that lunchroom and five guys with an idea and a giant computer; in fact, I’ on it.

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