Picking Splinters: March ‘Madness’

They say love is hell. March Madness is worse.

I’ll be honest. I’m a little concerned about my NCAA bracket this year. You may think it’s as simple as picking the teams you believe to be capable of winning each game. But that’s a quaint notion that doesn’t account for the sunk costs of sports watching, nor the strategic disadvantages of competing in a bracket challenge against your family — mine in particular.

See, for five of the past six years my then-girlfriend, then-fiancé, now-wife has dominated me in the bracket department. Not only has that resulted in a never-ending shopping odyssey to DSW — which is my personal version of purgatory — but it’s also left several layers of mental scarring. Now I can’t sit down and look at a bracket without seeing the phantom footprint of Steve Madden pumps.

But while my wife is all up in my head space dominating my mental dojo, I’ve got even more problems: my in-laws.

I know how that sounds and that’s not what I mean. They’re all outstanding people, really, but their academic careers have taken them to some of the best college basketball schools on the planet. For example, my sister in-law has attended Notre Dame, Ohio State and now works at Temple. Seriously? That’s two Owl upsets away from being three-quarters of this season’s Final Four.

My father in-law makes it even harder. Not only did he get a post-graduate veterinary degree from Michigan State – and in March picking Michigan State is just as good as printing money – but he also loves his daughters so much that he picks all their teams to go deep into the tournament too. When he adds in their picking power his bracket is going to look like Voltron.

As if that’s not enough stress by itself, there’s the pressure that comes with my day job. I work in sports. I was the sports editor for the News-Press and now I work for the “worldwide leader in sports,” which means I’m supposed to dominate this event. Instead I usually end up walking around department stores holding size 7, opened-toed heels made from hemp.

Never again! This season, I’ve committed to studying college basketball in way that would tax the resolve of a Navy S.E.A.L. While my wife thought I was “being lazy” or “watching sports again” I was really studying every minute aspect of some of the nation’s top teams. If an average fourth grader spent as much time studying academics as I did studying college basketball, he would have calculated another digit of Pi by now … from the backseat of a floating car, which he also invented.
But it will all be worth it. Last season I finally broke the streak of losing to my wife, which she (conveniently!) blames on being sidetracked from planning our wedding. Crocodile tears, I say! (Though our wedding was rather lovely … )

This season, her focus is back. I can tell just by the little probing questions she throws out there, like “What’s a Jimmer Fredette?”
Do you see the mind games this woman plays?!

Meanwhile, I’m hunched over a laptop evaluating offensive efficiency scores from Ken Pomeroy, running thousands of simulations and trying to get the humidity forecast for the Verizon Center to see if it will be conducive to teams relying on jump shots. And you know what that effort is going to get me? A pair of Uggs to hold while my wife tries on a few more things in the sandal aisle.

Man, my confidence is shot. Forget purgatory. This is a circle of hell. Not DSW, this, right here, losing my ever-loving mind while I decide whether or not I should pick a 16 seed to win a game because it might give me a weird, unpredictable competitive advantage.

You see, I am a ruined shell of a man trying to regain my identity one 5 vs. 12 matchup at a time. At least my wife still loves me … even if it’s only because I make a good shoe caddy.