Fixing Bracket Pools – The RTFM Scoring System (redux)

If you don’t care about the explanation and just want to join, click on the group link here. The password is march. This bracket is only available on CBS because that is the only major site that allows this much customization.

There is a tremendous flaw in the standard scoring settings for March Madness brackets. We all know that system well. It’s the classic 1-2-4-8-16-32 model that ESPN and most other sites use for their bracket competitions.

Yeah, that system is BORING (for serious college basketball fans)!

The standard scoring model has all the wrong incentives for an exciting March Madness experience. If you have a sweet mid-major that you think is going to pull an upset over a top-five seed, it makes no sense to pick that upset to win because it’s worth the same amount as the No. 1 seed beating a No. 16. Mathematically, you’re much better off picking chalk and hoping for the best. And it goes beyond the first round as well. Picking an upset in the later rounds is even dumber by ESPN’s scoring system.

Think about it, taking a non No. 1 or No. 2 seed to make the Final Four is logical suicide in the standard pool. And picking a champion from the ranks of No. 6 or higher? Forget about it! Picking the correct champion is worth 32 points! You can’t pass that up by picking a Cinderella to make it all the way. It’s just not practical. Unfortunately, the odds are you are going to pick the wrong one, but you have to do it. And so most people end up taking No. 1 seeds and watch as the random people who pick based on coin flips win. It’s really freakin’ boring to watch. Picking low-seeded teams like Butler and VCU to make deep runs is pointless! Where’s the fun? Where’s the Madness? It’s March, for goodness’ sake!

Me and my friend Ross have developed the solution to all the stupidity surrounding the standard scoring model. I call it the RTFM Scoring system, short for Ross-Tristan Fibonacci Multiplier. We’re using it in our bracket competition for the second year running. This scoring system has everything you need to make your March Madness actually mad:

The Premise:

Each round value has been changed. Instead of the classic system, we changed the scoring to a 2-3-5-8-13-21 model, based on the Fibonacci sequence. This makes the championship worth 10.5 times more than the first round, rather than the ridiculous 32 times that the standard model gives you. While it is still a sizable bonus, it’s not enough to completely break the game.

Next, every time you pick an game, the number of points you get is multiplied by the number of the seed you picked in that round. For example, if the 12th seed wins then 24 points would be credited. If the 3rd seed wins, you get 6 points, and so forth. You see, it makes the games that are actually harder to predict (the 8/9 matchups, the 7/10 matchups) worth more than the games that are comparatively easy. It also balloons the value of picking a major upset run, as the number of potential points you can get can be astronomical. Now you don’t have to worry about not picking Arkansas Little Rock to beat Purdue because of the value. You get properly compensated for every correct pick you make. You also get compensated for exploiting the idiocy of the Selection Committee’s seeding, and don’t we all love exploiting the idiocy of the Selection Committee?

Now, you may be thinking, “There’s a major flaw in the system! If you don’t have a big time upset, then you’re totally screwed! You just pushed the scoring the other way.” Not exactly. Because the rounds are still worth increasingly more, picking a 1 seed to the go to the Sweet 16 is still effective. Secondly, a person picking an upset is taking a risk correspondent to the points the person receives. If Little Rock does not beat Purdue, that’s 10 points you missed out right there.

Besides, if you are scared because you’ll fall behind in the First Round, that’s not the case. The multiplier continues into the later rounds, which means if you correctly pick a 2 seed into the Final Four, you still get 26 points, or roughly the equivalent of a 13 seed beating a 4. Statistically, there is about a 27.71 percent chance a given No. 2 seed makes the Final Four. KenPom gives No. 13 seed Iona a 25 percent chance of defeating No.4 Iowa State in the First Round. That’s just about even. The RTFM is excellent at trying to equalize the risk across all rounds of the tournament.

The chances of a No. 1 seed making the Elite 8 should be worth about as much as picking a No. 4 seed to defeat a No. 13 seed in the First Round. Both outcomes are quite likely, so it only makes sense that they are worth similar point values. It’s not completely perfect mathematically, but it does a much better job than the standard scoring system, which does not even bother to equalize the value of risk.

Benefits of the RTFM Scoring System

  • It rewards actual knowledge about college basketball because making smart picks are adequately rewarded.
  • It offers a variety of different strategies and methods to achieve victory. For example, last year, the winner bet on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State to march through the bracket as a No. 7 seed. The second place finisher picked Duke to be the Champion and a bunch of well-placed first-round upsets.
  • The scoring system can still produce really tight scores. Last year, the first place finisher ran away with it because he picked 3/4 Final Four teams and the champion, but he deserved to win by a lot because he had the best picks. However, the next 5 finishers were all within 30 points (basically 1 Sweet 16 pick) of each other. Because March Madness is so random, it is likely that even if you hit on 1 or 2 of the upsets you like, your opponents are also likely to get the rewards on another part of the bracket.
  • You can decide how much you are willing to risk. Basically, you decide how many points you’re willing to get. It adds a whole new level of strategy to the game. Sure, you can go all-out with a crazy upset bracket and have a huge number of projected points, but when 80-90 percent of those picks fail, you’ll be right back with the rational people.
  • Bracket Busted in the First Round? Not so fast. If you still have a miracle upset pick that can make the Elite 8, like Butler, for example, that means you can still win! The RTFM keeps everyone invested for much longer than the traditional scoring system.

Drawbacks of the RTFM Scoring System

  • It actually takes some simple math to calculate scores in real-time. OH NO! SIMPLE MATH! Whatever are we going to do? Oh wait, the computer does it for you after the game ends. Never mind.
  • The math isn’t completely perfect. Picking a 1 seed to make the Final Four is not totally matched up probabilistically with its equivalent, an 8/9 game. Sorry. I’m not going into decimals. Also, because certain seeds have had a statistically unsustainable likelihood to make the next few rounds (No. 9 seeds, for example), the historical data does not totally match up. Sorry. If you did a Monte Carlo simulation and then gave me the decimal weights that would probably be perfect, but that’s too complicated.
  • You may get your heart broken. Especially if your treasured upset pick gets beaten by  a buzzer-beating three-pointer from a No. 4 seed.
  • Picking the winner and the Final Four still has a ton of importance. Maybe you consider that a good thing. If you pick a 2 seed to win, that person gets 42 points, which still worth a lot. The benefit increases if you pick a 3 or a 4 to win.

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