March Madness Contest Guide, With a Little Coaching from Bracketologist Brad Wachtel
But, ambitious participants with lofty hoop dreams should certainly rely on more than just blind luck. And no one, in terms of accuracy and enduring reliability, provides guidance like the preeminent bracketologist Brad Wachtel. Wachtel joined the Rutgers coaching staff this year, so "a conflict of interest" prevents him from providing his full, round-by-round bracketology breakdown. However, he was generous enough to bestow our readers with his remarkable insight, and -- most graciously -- his essential tips for filling out a competitive, successful bracket on some of the great Web options out there.
Take his advice, and take ours: we've rounded up the ten best free bracket sites, so once you've gotten your Wachtel-approved strategy, you can hit the courts. Digitally, of course.
To the Contests"Selection Sunday" arrives March 13th, but the actual tournament officially tipped off yesterday. The primary games begin two days later, so the final deadline to submit brackets (aside from the round-by-round challenges) will be Thursday morning prior to the first game's tip-off. CBS and ESPN, which provide excellent online coverage of the games, also feature highly popular bracket challenges. And, as with its killer online Masters coverage, CBS bestows users with a crucial, cut-away "boss" button (just so the workplace slacking won't be quite so blatant).
Dozens of other sites also provide free -- and lucrative -- tournament contests, so players shouldn't fling just one or two desperate half-court heaves. If you take enough shots, you're bound to eventually nail one, right? Why not sign up for all?
CBS Sports, 'Mayhem Bracket Challenge' and 'Round by Round Challenge'
Style: CBS provides a particularly user-friendly bracket service, and it also offers enticing perks like live-streaming and the "boss" button. Allows group creation so you can split your earnings amongst your partners. Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (Sorry Quebecois), 18 and over.
Scoring: In the Bracket Challenge, players receive one point for each correct pick in the 1st round. Points then double for each following round (Traditional style). Individual round competitions are based on correct number of picks.
ESPN, 'Tournament Challenge'
Style: With ESPN's excellent and instant live-stat options, die-hards can follow every point swing -- both on and off the court. Allows group creation. U.S. residents, 13 and over.
Scoring: Players receive 10 points for each correct pick in the 1st round. Points double for each subsequent round.
Coke Zero, 'NCAA Bracket Challenge'
Style: Players can complete up to three brackets. Open to U.S. residents, 18 and over.
Scoring: Winners are selected from each round's individual leaders.
NBC Sports, 'It's Madness'
Style: Allows group creation. U.S. residents, 18 and over.
Yahoo! Sports, 'Yahoo Tourney Pick'em'
Style: Yahoo! provides exclusive trash-talk from Kenny Powers, as well as excellent customizable features for Facebook users. Allows group creation. U.S. residents, 18 and over.
Hooters/Fox, 'Bracket Challenge'
Style: The Hooters March Madness of meat serves up particularly mouth-watering prizes for wing lovers. Allows group creation. U.S. residents, 21 and over.
Ruby Tuesday, '$1 million Perfect Bracket Challenge'
Style: Played entirely on Facebook. One entry per person. U.S. residents, 18 and over.
Scoring: If multiple players submit a perfect bracket, the winners receive equal percentages of the $1 million. For the 50 other prizes, scoring starts at 2 points for each correct 1st round pick. The points then double for each following round. Winners will be randomly selected from the top overall finishers.
USA Today, 'March Mania Contest'
Style: USA Today's prizes may seem meager compared to some other challenges, but it does provide a great option for playing it safe, picking outlandish upsets or backing a personal favorite regardless of their seed.
Scoring: Uses a formula that tabulates points based on seed and round.
theScore.com, 'Bracket Buster'
Style: One entry per person. Residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, Florida, New York, Rhode Island and Quebec), 16 and over.
Sports Illustrated, 'Bracket Challenge'
Style: Players are allowed to submit four brackets, so this could be a good method for trying out more creative, and perhaps ridiculous, selection methods. Allows group creation, U.S. residents, 18 and over.
Now you've got your sites lined up, check out the sidebar above for tips and tricks from Wachtel to keep your (March Madness) game on track.