First things first: When it comes to punctuation, I am down with the bracket.
Not only am I in favor of filling out brackets for the NCAA Tournament, I think that, whenever possible, everything else in life should be settled the same way. The NFL playoffs. American Idol. The presidential debates. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Academy Awards. The next Mrs. Paul McCartney.
Second things second: No, I don't want to see your bracket.
I don't care, okay? I don't care who you have winning the tournament. I don't care who your first-round upsets are. I don't care whether Coppin State losing its play-in game has wrecked your picks already. I don't care if you are so darned good at this that Dick Vitale himself is tempted to peek over your shoulder.
Also, I don't care if you don't care about my bracket, either.
This is the part that most bracketeers, bless their little hearts, fail to grasp. Making your NCAA Tournament predictions should be a solemn — and silent — affair. No offense intended, but I would rather read the liner notes of a Michael Bolton album than someone else's bracket. The only thing sillier than another person's NCAA bracket is someone else's NIT bracket, especially if it is Leonard Hamilton's.
In other words, it isn't the brackets that bother me, it's the racket. And yet, America prattles on as if bracket soup were our national product.
It is an amazing phenomenon, America's fascination with the NCAA bracket. In the future, sociologists will write term papers about it. Especially the top-seeded sociologists from the power conferences.
It doesn't matter where you work. Between Selection Sunday and Thursday's tip-off, every office in America is the same. We all have the guy who talks, a little too loudly, about the bench strength of a team that sounds like a guy you went to high school with (George Mason? What's he up to these days?). We all have that co-worker who will work 30 minutes on a bracket, then look up and ask, quite seriously, "What's a seed?'' And, yes, that is the person who will win your pool. Again.
Even presidential candidate John McCain has a bracket. And don't you wonder whom he picks in the Obama U. vs. Hillary State matchup?
Never has there been a sporting event that attracted so many who know so little. Once, I worked with a guy whose Final Four included something like Michigan, Duke, the Celtics and the Beatles. Which is just silly, because why would anyone pick Michigan?
Guess what. That guy hammered me in the pool.
And, yeah, that's the real reason I don't want to hear about your bracket. It's better than mine. When it comes to predicting the tournament, I am gloriously, flamboyantly awful. Three years ago, just before the Final Four, I proclaimed there was no way North Carolina was going to win it. And, of course, North Carolina won. I understand I am still quite the pinata on the Tar Heels' message boards.
Of course, not everyone loves bracket surfing. Bosses, for instance, seem to hate it, especially when the photocopiers catch fire from overuse. According to an article in USA Today, some companies are actually installing software so workers can't watch games while at work. I think it's called The Bah, Humbug Filter.
According to researchers, the tournament will cost businesses $1.7-billion in lost productivity. They say 37.3-million workers will watch an average of 15 minutes a day. They estimate $2.7-billion will be wagered.
All of which leads us to this: Who are these researchers, and why don't they get back to their real jobs and leave the rest of us alone?
You know what's almost as fun as the tournament? It's reading the endless "tips for the tournament.'' Let's see: Pick teams who have done well on the road. Pick teams who have finished strong. Pick teams with good guard play. Pick a No. 12 to upset a No. 5, but only in an odd-numbered year. Pick teams with older coaches. Pick teams with strong benches. And, of course, pick against North Carolina at your peril.
Also, there are these tips:
This is not a good year to pick Indiana. On the other hand, if you are selecting a new phone texting package, Kelvin Sampson is a role model.
Whenever possible, try to pick the same teams that Rick Neuheisel would.
Avoid picking Memphis. Also, any other teams where you are a better free-throw shooter than the players.
When comparing brackets, anyone who says "RPI'' to you is not your friend.
And finally, if you are Seth Greenberg, it is okay to pick "Virginia Tech'' in every matchup. Just because.
My picks? If you have to know, I've got Texas over Memphis in the South, UCLA over Xavier in the West, Georgetown over Kansas in the Midwest and North Carolina over Tennessee in the East. UCLA over Texas and Carolina over Georgetown.
In the title game, I have North Carolina over UCLA.
On the Tar Heel message boards, that ought to scare them to death.