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Need for Information Is Creating a Bracket

This season, there is a mock bracket on almost every cyberspace street corner, and has been since the day after last season's Final Four. One Web page called The Bracket Project compares seeds of teams in 31 different mock brackets that come in all shapes and sizes. One Web site, Bracket Racket, has the heading: "Joe Lunardi, meet your nemesis." Another, the Bracket Board, states: "If a problem comes along, you must bracket." And still another reads: Shelby's Bracket W.A.G, which stands for "Wild Ass Guess."

All you need is a bracket and a dream. "And a Web site," said 27-year-old Drew Barnette, an academic adviser at Wright State whose mock bracket is read by tens of thousands each day. Unlike some, Barnette's aspirations are only to be a "super fan."

On the other hand, David Mihm, a 24-year-old West Coast Web site designer for small businesses, views Lunardi as an "inspiration." The traffic for his Web site has doubled every year since he started posting mock brackets six years ago.

Matthew Stevens, who contributes to Mihm's tournament coverage, is an aspiring journalist at Eastern Illinois University who would like bracketology to be recognized as a "legit science."

For Doug McKinney, a 23-year-old Radford graduate, the bracket is something he works on every day. McKinney, who owns the Web site, http://www.featurepresentationonline.com, tries to think like a selection committee member and follow in the footsteps of Lunardi and Palm.

"They are pioneers," said McKinney, who lives in Silver Spring. "I definitely look up to them as idols."

Mark Gorby, a 23-year-old from Clarksburg, W.Va., is in his third season posting mock brackets online and said "everyone would like to be like Lunardi." Gorby, who is studying to be a high school teacher unless a dream bracket job arises, views himself as being in the next tier behind Lunardi and Palm, but added, "They are a little more accurate, but not a whole heck of a lot."

Others who regularly project the tournament field come from a different perspective. The pride of Jim Colton, a 33-year-old with an MBA from University of Chicago, is the mathematical rating system he derived, the Colton Index. Colton, who works at a Chicago bank, said he has had dialogue with two former selection committee members and would like nothing more than to see the committee do away with the RPI, which he considers flawed.

Colton represents the segment of the population, however small, that chooses to calibrate college basketball as much as celebrate it. One reason is that the selection process has become formulaic, according to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.

Bilas told his network that it would be particularly interesting to take a student from MIT who has never seen a basketball game and give him the bracketing procedures, relevant statistics and what the committee has done in the past. "Put that person in a room during Championship Week," Bilas said, "and they would do just as well as the committee. They would get 64 out of 65. I think it has become that predictable."

But because of Palm and Lunardi, it also has become more understandable, at least to the public. If he has made a contribution, Lunardi said, it is that mock brackets help the complicated selection process look more transparent. He added that the committee "is not 10 people who take 20 minutes, have a pizza and a six-pack, and throw it together."

Like Palm, Lunardi has been compiling mock brackets since the mid-1990s. It was not until mid-January 2002 when ESPN put Lunardi's bracket on its Web page that he fully understood the insatiable appetite for them. Within 90 minutes of posting the bracket, the page received 250,000 hits, Lunardi said. This season, it is common for Lunardi to get 1,000 questions in the first 30 minutes of an online chat with fans.


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