Let’s say you’re a casual American soccer fan who is struggling to get excited about this year’s World Cup, mainly because the U.S. men’s national team won’t be playing in it. Or, alternately, you’re hardcore about the sport and are planning to watch every match, no matter who’s playing. Either way, a little action on the side is never a bad thing. Just look at the NCAA tournament, which is usually thrilling on its own but a must-watch if your bracket still has a chance.
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While the World Cup doesn’t go into bracket mode until round-robin group play is finished, there are still plenty of ways to spice things up with some sort of tournament pool. Here are a few options:
Because the World Cup is limited to 32 teams, this works best with either exactly four or exactly eight people. Each participant takes turns drafting a team until they’re all snapped up. Each win is worth two points, a draw is worth one point and a loss gets you nothing. Most points wins.
Alternatively, you could award three points for wins, two points for a win in penalties, and one point for a loss in penalties or a draw. You could also award more points for wins in later rounds, or a bonus for selecting the champion.
Each player ranks the 32 teams, from top to bottom. The No. 32 team is the country you think will win the most games, No. 31 is the team you think will win the second-most, and so on, down to No. 1. With each win, the team earns the points assigned to it via its ranking. Draws could be worth half-value. Most points at the end of the tournament wins.
You could also assign specific point values to all 32 teams, based on their expected strength. For example, Germany, Brazil, Spain and France — considered four of the favorites — might each be worth one point. Argentina, Belgium, Portugal and England — the next tier — could each be worth two points, and so on. Participants then choose a roster of four teams, and earn the allotted points for every win, with multipliers as the event progresses. (Quarterfinal wins are multiplied by two, semifinal wins are multiplied by three, etc.) Again, draws could be worth half-value.
There are multiple ways to go about this: Either wait for the knockout round and then have everyone fill out a bracket, or have participants predict the group winners and runners-up and then fill out the brackets from there. Those who correctly predict the group winners in the proper order of finish will have the better chance of success in the bracket.
Here’s how Fox Sports is handling the scoring for its bracket pool contest:
As a tiebreaker, each player predicts the final score for both the final and the third-place game.
Alternatively, you could pair a traditional bracket pool with a stage pool. Ask each participant to choose the winner and runner-up of each group; entries receive three points for correctly picking the winner or the runner-up of a group, and one point for picking a team that advances to the knockout stage but in the wrong spot. (For example, if you choose Russia to win Group A and they come through, you receive three points. If you pick Russia to win Group A and they advance as the group’s runner-up, you get one point.) Those group-stage points carry over to the more traditional bracket stage, where points are awarded in NCAA tournament fashion. (Four-eight-12-16, to give one example, for wins in the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and final.) Participants don’t fill out the bracket until the group stage is over and the bracket completed.
Each participant picks one team per day, or maybe one team per two days. If that team loses, you’re out of the pool. A win or draw keeps you alive. Players can only pick a team once. Last one standing is the winner.
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