1.      ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Hi.  My name is Joe and I’m a brackaholic.

Which isn’t a bad thing usually.  For 11 months of the year, I can function normally (well, OK – normal for me).  But every March my addiction kicks in and I’m out of control.

Some call it March Madness, but I call it brackaholism.

Brackaholism is an addiction to filling out the NCAA men’s basketball tournament brackets that you see floating around every March.  It is especially prevalent among those of us whose teams never do very well.  You don’t see much brackaholism in North Carolina or Kentucky, for example.  Folks there are too busy being fans to worry about bracketing.

But where I live brackaholism is rampant.  The theory is: if you can’t be good, at least you can be right.  And since my team is good enough to be in the tournament but not good enough to beat Middle South A&M State – or anyone else in the tournament, for that matter – it becomes even more important to be right about it.  Somehow the sting of losing in the first round – again – is lessened when you can hold up your bracket and say, “See?  I knew we would lose.”

While I have dabbled in bracketology for years, I became seriously addicted about five years ago.  A friend of mine – we’ll call him Mark (because that’s his real name and I hope he sees it in print and knows what he has done to me) – invited me to sign up for a computer bracketing competition.  Up until that point I had always clipped one bracket out of the newspaper and filled it out – for fun.  But somehow inputting a computerized bracket and sending it out into cyberspace to be matched against other bracketeers all around the world changed everything for me.  It became serious.  It became Important.  It became . . . addictive.

I studied and plotted and prepared for my selections.  I filled out five different brackets before I finally settled on the one to be submitted to the competition.  If I was going to put my picks out there for the world to see, I needed to do everything I could to make sure I was RIGHT.

The first day of the tournament I was nervous – but not for my team.  For the first time in my life I wanted them to lose.  No, that’s not quite right – I NEEDED them to lose.  In making my computer bracket I had gone against my heart and predicted that my team would go out in the first round, and I’m ashamed to admit that I was actually relieved when they did.

And they weren’t the only losers I predicted correctly that first day.  In fact, I was right on every single game – including a couple of stunning upsets.  By the end of the day I was in an addictive stupor, brought on by a heady mix of adrenaline and ego.

When I arrived at work (yes, that’s right – many brackaholics actually allow their sickness to creep into the workplace) there was an e-mail waiting for me from the dot-com running the computerized brackets indicating that I was one out of only 11 submitters to pick all of the opening day games correctly.  One out of 11!  That was like being a bracketing all-American, wasn’t it?  Not only was I right, but I was among the most right people in America!

I was hooked.  Never mind that I got clobbered the second day of the tournament.  For one brief shining moment I was right – and I had an e-mail from a computer service to prove it.

Ever since then I’ve tried to recapture the magic of rightness, and I’ve come close a couple of times.   Last year I was doing pretty well up until the Final Four.  My 13-year-old daughter was the only one in the family to pick Syracuse as the eventual winner.  She said she picked Syracuse because she thought it sounded “cool” and because they had a player named Carmello, which is also the name of her favorite candy bar.  I scoffed at her reasoning last year, but as my brackaholism started to get the best of me this past March . . . I don’t know.

St. Joe’s sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

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--- © Joseph Walker

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"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.