CBT’s guide to running a perfect bracket pool

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One of the best things about March Madness is that it sweeps across the entire nation and gets all of the casual sports fans involved. For a few weeks every year, the country turns its complete attention to the NCAA Tournament, and a lot of it has to do with filling out a bracket and entering a pool.

Since the CBT staff has been in dozens of different NCAA Tournament pools over the years, we decided to help guide you in the right direction on the ways to make your pool the best that it can be.

College Basketball Talk will also be hosting an NCAA Tournament Pool over at Yahoo!’s Bracket Games, and you can join it right here.

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WHAT SHOULD YOU PLAY FOR? Money changing hands in NCAA Tournament pools is a big reason why people follow March Madness so closely. Tired of that doofus in your office who always brings up hot sports takes and doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Then beat him in the pool, take his money and shut up his hot takes. It’s the American way.

If your goal is to cast a wide net and get as many people as possible in your pool, then $5 is probably your ideal entry fee. It allows ultra-casual fans to feel comfortable with getting involved and people don’t feel too terrible if they lose.

If you want to weed-out the people like John from accounting who know, “Kentucky is really good,” and not much else about college basketball, then $20 might be more of your speed. Then you’ll eliminate the casual competitors from your pool and won’t feel like a moron when John from accounting inevitably beats you because you spent four days over-thinking things.

One reader last year also suggested a $10 buy-in for your pool, with $5 from each entrant going towards winnings and $5 from each entrant going towards a Final Four party. So even if you lose in that pool, there’s still a fun party for everyone at the end of the proceedings. Not a bad idea at all.

Not into losing money or gambling? That’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of ways to still keep the NCAA Tournament fresh.

I’ve heard of NCAA Tournament pools with bets for dinners, wearing embarrassing costumes, push-up contests and even one pool where a family divided up household chores based on the results. There are plenty of ways to make the NCAA Tournament fun without money exchanging hands, you just have to get creative with it.

WHAT SHOULD THE SCORING SYSTEM BE? Some pools feature straight scoring for most overall correct picks — one point per game, all games — or the more standard escalating points that double for each round.

Some have even gotten creative with the escalating points system over the years and changed around the numbers to reflect more importance on certain rounds.

I prefer the escalating points that double for each round:

Round of 64: 1 point

Round of 32: 2 points

Sweet 16: 4 points

Elite Eight: 8 points

Final Four: 16 points

Title Game: 32 points

This is the easiest way to escalate scoring with casual fans while also fairly giving people who predicted champions or Final Four teams a fair shake if they have a poor first-round showing.

I’ve also heard of the emerging trend of scoring rounds by only adding a single point per round, so that first-round games mean a little bit more in the overall swing of things.

That scoring breakdown goes as follows:

Round of 64: 1 point

Round of 32: 2 points

Sweet 16: 3 points

Elite Eight: 4 points

Final Four: 5 points

Title Game: 6 points

Scoring systems in NCAA Tournament pools depend on personal belief. If you believe that picking a national champion should mean more, then make that point total significantly higher than the earlier rounds.

Looking for a unique tiebreaker besides picking the final score of the title game? Give pool participants the option of entering their final bracket early and picking the First Four games in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday. Make each of those First Four games worth 1/2 of a point. With those four games, that’s two potential bonus points given to people who put their bracket in early. Then you don’t have to text them an hour before tip-off on Thursday asking for their picks.

SHOULD YOU ALLOW PEOPLE TO BUY-IN WITH MULTIPLE BRACKETS? No.

Never.

People that enter multiple brackets are the worst people in the world (besides Iggy Azalea).

If you have a side “mascot bracket,” okay, I get it. You’re trying to cater to someone special in your life who might enjoy that and have a bit of fun. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you’re that person who says, “…well, in my other bracket,” nobody is going to take you seriously. Nobody. These people are hedging their bets and trying to sound smart because they picked something correctly in one of their many brackets. Congratulations, it only took you four tries of filling out a bracket to pick that 5-12 upset. Nobody cares. These people still over-glorify high school accomplishments and have used the same Facebook photo for five years because they’ve put on weight but don’t want people outside their circle to know it.

This is America’s event and you should be overconfident to a fault with your single bracket like everyone else.

HOW SHOULD YOU SEND THE INITIAL EMAIL/WELCOME LETTER? NCAA Tournament pools have reached such epic proportions in some cases that it feels like you have no idea who is in charge. We’ve all entered that friend of a friend’s pool and you quickly have no idea who anyone is or what your connection is to the pool itself.

If you’re running a pool, take a second to introduce yourself and what you — and your pool — are about before you demand total strangers to send $20 over Paypal or Chase Quickpay.

Put a contact email address or phone number, maybe even a Twitter handle. Explain when people can expect payouts, how they’ll receive payouts and what the payout breakdown will be. Tell people when they can expect scoring updates or any other vital messages. A little communication and common courtesy never hurt anybody and the people in your pool who don’t necessarily know you will have a higher comfort level in joining and staying in your pool in future years.

And if you’re on a big email chain in an NCAA Tournament pool, don’t be that person who hits “reply all” for a simple question that you can send to one person. You’re better than that.

Well, there you have it. Some tips on running an ideal NCAA Tournament Pool.

Have some creative ideas of your own? We’d love to hear them in the comments section (and some great ideas like the Final Four party idea came from it last year).

Best of luck in your March Madness Pool endeavors.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.