Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket is a rite of March.
But that doesn't mean it can't get stale.
The bracket pool you're used to is the simplest way to bet on March Madness. But there are a ton of other methods to get in on the action. I'm not talking about betting individual spreads or over/unders -- although both are greats ways to have a blast/lose your shirt. This is about tweaking the bracket format with your buddies to keep things fresh.
Here are five alternative NCAA pools that can help you do just that.
You might be familiar with this from the NFL version. At the beginning of every tournament day (starting with the first round, not the First Four), everyone in the pool picks a team. If that team wins, the player advances to the next day. If they lose, the player is out. On Day Two, the previous day's winners must pick a different team (you can't pick the same team twice), and the winners continue on. You do this until only one player is left standing.
The big benefit is expendiency. With a standard bracket, unless most people in your pool are terrible and one person is really good, there's a good chance you won't know the winner until the Final Four or title game. But with the Survivor Pool, the field is theoretically winnowed significantly each day of the tournament (especially if top seeds get knocked out), and with four gamedays in a week, it's not unreasonable to have a winner by the Elite Eight.
To make things a bit more interesting, you can also do a Survivor Spread Pool. The main difference there is that instead of picking a winner straight up, you have to pick against the spread (so you could pick a team that lost, but still move on if they beat said spread). It'll last roughly the same amount of time as a regular Survivor Pool but be a bit more challenging. (May appeal to degenerate gamblers only, though.)
This is basically a mini fantasy league where only points matter.
Picking teams is easy. Get a group of folks to hold a standard fantasy snake draft to pick a five player team per person. By the end of the tournament, the team with the most points scored will be declared the winner.
Sounds simple, right?
Now comes the strategy. Do you pick high-scoring players on teams who might not go far in the tournament, or do you pick average scorers on teams that will go deep? Do you go with Luke Kennard at Duke and his ppg and hope the Blue Devils go far in a tough region, or do you take Donovan Mitchell of Louisville's 15 ppg in a relatively easier Midwest region?
It's easy enough to just pick some good scorers, but you can really twist yourself in knots strategizing to make the best possible team.
Of course, if you don't like the idea of picking players, the simplest "classic" fantasy format for the NCAA Tournament would be to have an eight-player/eight-round snake draft, with each participant picking teams (rather than players), covering the entire field. Winner take all.
March Madness Squares
Same concept as Super Bowl Squares. You simply make a grid, numbered from 0-9 on each axis, and assign a number to each square and a team to each axis. Whoever has the square with the final digit of each team's score is the winner.
Admittedly, this method works best for the Final Four or Championship Game, but if there's a contest of particular interest to you and your friends or coworkers, this is a fun way for everyone to get in on it. And if you're trying to even the playing field between those who follow college basketball and those who don't, this is the way to do it.
Super Bowl Sqaures can be easy to game because of the relatively low scoring and also strange point values in football. You can multiply by sevens and add threes and figure out fairly realistic football score. With basketball, though, it's much more random.
The big downside to this method is that you're cheering on a score instead of a team. Most of the fun of March Madness comes from spontaneously becoming fans of teams you picked in your bracket, whatever form that may take. The Squares kill that magic a little. So like I said, maybe save it for the Final Four.
Every Game Matters
This is the game most akin to the traditional bracket pool you probably play, but there is one big difference. In the typical pool, you get more points for winning games in later rounds. In an Every Game Matters pool, all games count the same.
Although this might not seem like much of a change, it can have a drastic effect on how you watch March Madness. The biggest change will be the importance of the first-round games. Typically, while the first round is exciting in terms of your pool, the games don't matter outside of the big upsets. With EGM, a first-round game like Creighton vs. Rhode Island is every bit as important as the title game. You'll be sitting on the edge of your seat a lot more in the first days of the tournament with this kind of pool.
The downside is that the winner could be locked up early. If someone cleans up in the first round, when there are the most games, it will be difficult to catch them just because there aren't enough contests for other players to make up the ground. I wouldn't recommend replacing your regular pool with this method, but it could be a nice supplement to the way you normally play.
This method can get a whole lot of people involved, none of whom have to know much about basketball or spend much money, and automatically make them a big fan of any team.
Basically every player is allowed a certain amount of money to buy teams with, and only one person can own any given team. Every win you get earns you a percentage of the total pot from the entrants. (Here's an example.) That lets you choose between a couple of strategies: You can spend big and grab a couple of the title contenders and hope they make it to the Final Four or later, or you can grab a bunch of potential Cinderellas and hope they collectively get enough wins to exceed what you put in.
There are two big upsides to this method. The first is that auctions are always fun. Second, that carries over to your rooting interests when watching the tournament. Things get really interesting when a team in your stable is playing a team in your buddy's.
Alternatively, although not technically an auction, you can put fixed prices on teams throughout the bracket (i.e a 1-seed costs $16, 2-seed costs $15 and so on), and give everyone one selection. This is a great method for big groups who want to wager different amounts of money. If you're serious about it, put down $16 Villanova. If you're not, put a fiver on a 12-seed and have a blast rooting them on. The result is the same: Making folks temporary diehards of random teams. That's what filling out a bracket in the first place, after all.
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Cy Brown writes about soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.