The Billion Dollar Question – Could Bracket Challenge Lead to Scandal?

Warren Buffett’s $1 billion bracket challenge is a dumb idea.

Never mind the odds say one has a better chance of dying from heat exposure waiting for a bus in Minneapolis during January, or being mauled by a polar bear in Florida 15 times.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 11.29.53 AMA DePaul University math professor figured that a “knowledgeable” college hoops fan has a 128 billion-to-one shot of nailing the entire bracket. Divide 128 billion by the 15 million entries the Yahoo!/Quicken Loans contest is capped at, and it leaves on average one billion dollar winner per 8,533 NCAA Tournaments. Which is better odds than DePaul’s chances of being national champions next year.

Then there is the obligatory fine print, which takes more time to analyze than the actual 68-team field.

There are the usual catch-alls in the official rules, covering everything including acts of God. How many controversies have broken out in contests involving making half-court shots?

In the past seven years, perfection has only occurred once over the first weekend (48 games) of ESPN’s contest involving millions of annual entries. It gets progressively more daunting after that.

But what if it that one perfect bracket in 8,633 years does hit? Stranger things have happened. The odds improve if the tournament proved to be nearly all chalk.

Though the contest does not constitute gambling, the NCAA has reason to be concerned about the promotion.

Assume a bracket gets to 60-0 heading into the Final Four. There would be enormous media attention. If someone gets to 62-0, the story would be more about the possible winning bracket than the teams playing the actual championship game.

My personal advice for anyone getting to 60-0 would be to decline all invitations to be anywhere near the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. Maybe the publicity at that point would be worth it – but would one really want to be in the stadium, be shown constantly on TV, and have every last reaction instantly GIF’d to the world?

If two bracket-fillers got to 62-0 with opposite teams winning the Championship game a backroom deal could be set for both to split the winnings. Both would be conceivably set for life while saved from 48 hours of unimaginable stress.

The Doomsday scenario is one perfect contestant going into the championship game.

A contestant could conceivably find a player from the team that person needs to lose. The bracket-filler could then offer $25 million to the player to tank, payable if his team loses the game. It would be an offering of an amount more than what most collegiate players would see as professionals.

One would imagine all safeguards would be taken to prevent a possible winner contacting any student-athlete playing in the game.

Imagine this scenario: Team A plays Team B, the 62-0 contestant has Team A winning. Team A does win, with immediate speculation centering on the losing team. A player from Team B goes 3-of-16 from the field, makes a few critical turnovers or misses some late free throws. The usual human error factors than occur in any random athletic event. But this time, no one would buy it, and the inevitable conspiracy theories would result. It would be hell not only for the winner, but also the players who underperformed from the losing side. Speculation would be endless on social media and even in the mainstream press.

All it would take is a hint of circumstantial evidence to make a case for Berkshire Hathaway to delay awarding of the $1 billion prize. Guilty until proven innocent. It would then likely be played out in the legal system for months and weigh forever on the players involved.

It would be the 1951 point-shaving scandal revisited, maybe on an even larger scale.

I expect the NCAA to take steps to ensure no such contest happens again, and I can’t blame the organization.

I wish the best for all 15 million who fill out the brackets on Yahoo!. I hope you win it all, but most likely you will only end up giving Quicken pertinent personal information.

About the Author

Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.