NCAA Tournament: Barack Bracket will be lucky to last the weekend
By Tim Dahlberg
Being president can sometimes be a humbling thing.
On Friday alone, Barack Obama found out the federal budget deficit could average nearly $1 trillion a year under his watch. Then he discovered even worse news ó his NCAA tournament pool was all but worthless.
Actually, it was worthless before play even began. Though the White House crowed about the president’s expertise in picking basketball winners, there wasn’t a mention anywhere of the 20 bucks or so that most of the rest of us toss into our own pools to have something else to keep score by.
It probably wouldn’t look good for the president to be gambling, largely because that’s what got us into the current economic mess to begin with. Even the Las Vegas sports books wouldn’t dare pull a giant con game like the one that made a lot of people rich on Wall Street and the rest of us a lot poorer.
Besides, the NCAA officially frowns on such things. Office pools, or so they would like you to believe, can lead to degenerate gambling, and we wouldn’t want a president putting off meetings with world leaders so he can consult his bookie on the point spread between North Carolina, the team he picks to win the national title, and LSU.
Still, you have to wonder if some consideration wasn’t given to getting Obama into the AIG office pool. Those guys have money, after all, and lots of it.
Obama’s pool was just for fun, and what fun it has been. He spent 20 minutes in the White House map room filling it out with ESPN’s Andy Katz, and the scribbled version was posted on the president’s official Web site.
It comes at a time the country is mired in a mess of underwater mortgages, unsteady banks and unsold cars. And, with the unemployment rate edging toward double figures, a lot of people who were in office pools before now don’t have offices to go to.
But it’s nice to know the president shares the pain of millions of us who, just like him, have brackets that have already gone bankrupt just a few days into the tournament.
This was supposed to be an easy tournament to pick, with strong No. 1 seeds in all four regions and the brackets set up so that the first two rounds would yield few surprises. And that was pretty much the way it went through what is always the most exciting two days in basketball, save a Cleveland State here and a Wisconsin and Western Kentucky there.
But Obama, like many of us, obviously gave his bracket too much thought. That is presidential prerogative, of course, but it hurt him when he crossed out Oklahoma State and replaced the Cowboys with Tennessee at the last moment, and did the same in picking Virginia Commonwealth instead of UCLA.
He began a rebound of sorts by picking Villanova to advance on Saturday, but was in a hole almost impossible to climb out of after winning just 19 of 32 first-round games. He compounded his mistakes by having two teams, Wake Forest and Florida State, advancing to the round of 16 only to see them both end up as one and outs.
That was obviously on the president’s mind Saturday as he headed toward his helicopter for Camp David, where the odds were good he would be tuning in to watch a game or two. Reporters were on hand, as usual, ready with the kind of tough questions that the commander in chief must deal with.
“Is the ACC overrated,” one yelled out.
“Apparently so,” Obama said with a grin.
It’s easy to blame the conference, but Obama should have no excuses. He plays basketball any chance he can get, his brother-in-law is Oregon State’s coach, and he’s been known to watch a game or two when time allows.
The beauty of the NCAA tournament, though, is it doesn’t take a president to figure it out. Anybody can make a few educated guesses, get lucky on a few other games, and claim both dominance and financial gain over friends and foes alike.
Having a few dollars involved may not be strictly legal in most places, but it’s a fairly harmless way to keep people interested. And this year lucky winners across the country can use their payoffs to replenish their looted 401(k) accounts or make a late mortgage payment.
The nation’s first fan doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s got both nice retirement perks and rent-free living space at least for the next four years.
Good thing, because the Barack Bracket will be lucky to last the weekend.