ESPN and CBS make fine apps for filling out your bracket. But I like to run old-school - and I'll tell you why.
While I consider myself more of a "naturalized" college basketball aficionado - and a fan of my Bryant Bulldogs and Providence Friars - it was love at first sight.
But my love of the game wasn't for a well-executed pick-and-roll, nor learning the difference between man and zone defense.
It was filling out my bracket.
My dad, who I like to think dabbles in the college basketball world enough to keep him dangerous, made a custom Excel file - because in the mid 2000s, nobody was making printable brackets (if they were, my dad was too stubborn to just print them out anyway). He even went so far as to highlight the fields we needed to fill in - keep in mind, my mom and two younger sisters hadn't watched a lick of basketball. So away the brackets went to the printer, and away we scribbled our favorite teams in hopes we'd have the family's bragging rights for the year.
Although my memory isn't strong enough to remember my first bracket, I like to think it was from the 2006 season. I was a mere nine-year-old, who had a vested rooting interest in the #1 seed UConn Huskies; mind you, they were picked off by #11 George Mason, who stunned Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State before losing to Florida in the Final Four that year.
I vividly remember being so enamored by the bracket creation process that in the years following, I researched more. For the most part, I knew which team was in which conference...with a lot of help from College Hoops 2K7 on my Playstation 2. I would make "fantasy" brackets; they exclusively had teams I wanted to see make the tournament, not the "boring" blue bloods that had been all over my TV growing up.
One year, there was a "Megabracket" - I fantasized of a worldwide tournament in which every college basketball team played. Little did I know of TV deals, travel budgets, and viable reasons why Central Connecticut wouldn't want to play Texas at a neutral site in Kazakhstan.
Over the years, my family and I didn't watch any sport consistently, let alone college basketball. But every single year, the brackets were filled out by all five of us - by hand, and together. Through college, through living in different states, through good times & bad.
And now, through a pandemic.
I texted my family and made sure everyone remembered. My middle sister, who's graduating from UConn this year, sent the Huskies to the Final Four...some dream! My dad took Illinois - the state he was born in - and my mom & youngest sister will probably pick whatever team's mascot jumps out at them.
It certainly has its share of questionable picks: Winthrop over Nova and Ohio making it to the Sweet 16 are most assuredly going to turn some heads. And yes, I know I forgot to put the winner of the 6/11 game in the East Region (I took Michigan State). But ultimately, March will lead back to Spokane, Washington: Gonzaga will continue its tear and rip through every team that tries to knock them down. Take that to the bank.
It may be just a piece of cardstock we slapped our logo on, but it's mine. I'm happy we actually have a tournament, and that I can continue this great tradition of the hand-written bracket.
The "power of the pen" runs deep in our family. I'll never take it for granted.