March 22, 2013

There's More Than One Way to Beat the Bracket

By - Keith Smith

This year's March Madness marks a personal milestone. It's the 30th anniversary of me filling out my very first NCAA Tournament bracket.

Photo from:
It's also the 30th anniversary of my participating in fantasy baseball, but that's another story. Well, technically, it's part of the same story, but for continuity, we'll stick with the bracketology portion of it.

This 30-year love affair for make-believe sports started during my junior year of college. Since then, I've seen dozens upon dozens of ways to fill out a bracket. I've seen guys study the numbers harder than they ever studied for a class. I've seen them pick teams based on their proximity to where they live. I've even seen many a woman pick teams based on which had the cutest players or coaches, or which had the best uniforms.

In three decades, I've won the pool a grand total of three times. In fact, I was the first three-time winner. That was around 1989. I haven't won since.

I've seen formulas work well one year, and fail miserably the next. As one friend became fond of saying, "Don't make a science out of coincidence." No truer words were ever spoken about filling out brackets.

But I think my favorite method of selecting, which was done by my friend the philosopher mentioned above, was one simply known as "The Jelly Bean Method."

Let me give you a little background before I explain this intricate and complicated methodology (which, I have to add, won the pool the only year it was used, when Bobby Knight left Indiana and Mike Davis took the Hoosiers to the finals).

I mentioned that I've played this for 30 years. Participants have come and gone, but there are three of us that have been competing against each other since the beginning. One of us is responsible for the Jelly Bean Method, and if you haven't guessed by now, it isn't me.

We all three transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1983 from different junior colleges for our final two years of baseball eligibility. As transfers, we naturally gravitated to each other, became fast friends, and remain so to this day. Others have come and gone in our little group, but we three are the only originals left.

Let me tell you a bit about the particular friend that devised the Jelly Bean Method, before I explain the system to you. He's Irish-Catholic, about 5'7, and easily the luckiest human to ever walk the face of the earth. He rolled a Volkswagen Beetle that first year about five revolutions on the interstate, without a seat belt, and walked away with only a few scratches. He recently had chest pains for two days before finally deciding to drive himself to the hospital, only to find out he had a heart attack. Thus, he's become affectionately known as "The Leprechaun" over the years.

So here is the method this goofy little leprechaun used to win with his "Jelly Bean" pick; he used green jelly beans and gold jelly beans (UAB's colors, for those of you who don't  know), and put the number of green ones for the higher seed in a bag, and the number of gold ones for the lower seed in the same bag. For example, in the first round, 1 green goes in and 16 gold ones go in for the 1 vs. 16 game. If he picked a gold one, he went with the No. 1 seed, and if he happened to pick the lone green one, he picked the 16-seed. As the seeds got closer (like an 8 vs. 9), it was a much more evenly matched draw of the jelly beans, much like the real game.

He did this for

Exhaustive? Yes. Time consuming? Certainly. Just as effective as doing hours and hours of homework to fill out your bracket? Hey, I can't argue with it. I lost to the method.

I tell you all this simply to say, now that another NCAA Tournament has arrived, fill out your bracket, pick some upsets, talk a little trash to your friends, and have fun. But at the end of the day, don't take it too seriously. You're not exactly handicapping in Vegas. You're deciding how a bunch of 20-year-olds are going to play a child's game.

Great. Now I'm hungry for jelly beans.


  1. Always fun to hear the different ways people pick their brackets. Last year I let my 5 year old daughter go through and pick all the games for my pool at work and I finished 2nd overall. Hopefully she hasn't lost her touch a year later. Hahaha

  2. I'll have to try the jelly bean method next year. Can't do any worse than I do picking normally. Lol

  3. That Leprechaun guy sounds like a genius!

  4. Awesome. I never win and half the people in my pool don't even watch sports. I think Jellybean method is in my future....

  5. Pretty sure my kids would eat the jelly beans before I was done making my picks and mess the whole thing up. lol