The President: Actually Not That Good at Bracketology
Newsflash: Nobody’s good at filling out a March Madness bracket. Including the President. But don’t get it mixed up: It has nothing to do with how good or bad of a president he is.
Back in 2011, conservative pundits decided their latest sign of the apocalypse summoned by President Barack Obama was that—amidst all the trouble in the world—the Commander-in-Chief had taken valuable time out of his day to publicly fill out his NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket. Obama had tried to head the potential controversy off at the pass by using his annual taped ESPN segment to ask Americans to donate to charity in the wake of Japan being hit by an earthquake and tsunami, as well as a nuclear disaster. But, evidently, wall-to-wall governing was expected from a government which has had no shortage of sports fans on both sides of the aisle.
As Deadspin's Drew Magary joked, Obama might even have the gall to spend precious minutes of his day using the bathroom.
Brackets are common in offices all across America, not just oval ones. A more sensible criticism might be that, well, Obama might not be all that great at it. In the six completed tournaments since Obama was first sworn into office, he's managed to pick the national champion a grand total of one time, correctly tabbing the North Carolina Tar Heels to win it all in 2009. The Heels were his only correct Final Four pick that March. Obama followed up that bullish effort by missing on all of his Final Four picks in 2010 and 2011, when he picked Kansas to win the title both times, only to see them ousted in the second round to Northern Iowa and then fall in the Elite Eight to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth a year later.
Overall, Obama has gotten six of 24 Final Four teams correct, or just 25%. It's a disarmingly poor success rate for a President who seems to love all things bracket. In the past, Obama inspired Grantland's bracket for the best character on The Wire during an interview with Bill Simmons in 2012. During this year's bracket segment, he described himself to ESPN's Andy Katz as a "three or four seed" during the 2008 Presidential election. ("But I was scrappy," he added.) This March, his 2012 election team has decided to try and select the GOP's worst Climate Change denier with—you guessed it—a bracket.
Then again, maybe Obama has just been unlucky since taking office. In 2008, when he was just a wee Senator from Illinois, Obama actually got three of four Final Four participants. His one miss, Derrick Rose and John Calipari's Memphis Tigers, would have been cutting down nets were it not for a barrage of missed free throws and a stunning three-pointer by Kansas' Mario Chalmers. Obama had Memphis going out in the Sweet Sixteen.
Obviously, there is no tried-and-true method for filling out the bracket for a highly variable, 68-team single-elimination tournament. Doing intensive research is often as effective as going by which team's mascot would win a fight. Obama told Katz in 2012 that he’s “big on momentum, especially in a tournament like this one, so whoever is looking hotter at the end of the year, those are teams I tend to be a little more inclined to pick."
Of course, he also added, "Other than that I think it's all throwing darts."
If you put much stock in the President's track record, you might be sweating a bit if you root for Villanova or the prohibitive favorite, Kentucky. POTUS has the Wildcats and, um, the Wildcats facing off in the title game this year, with Kentucky completing a rare undefeated season to win the championship. The chalky prediction might be a sign he's learned his lesson from a year ago when he had two four-seeds, Michigan State and Louisville, reaching the final. Neither reached the Final Four.
Despite taking two No. 1 seeds to play on April 6 in Indianapolis, Obama does have his fair share of upsets this year, picking No. 12 Buffalo, No. 11 Texas and No. 12 Wyoming to all topple higher-ranked foes in the round of 64. But that may not inspire much hope given that one of his predicted Cinderellas, BYU was eliminated by Ole Miss in its play-in game Tuesday night.
Obama said in this year's spot with Katz, "I don't think you can play a perfect basketball game anymore than you can do anything perfectly." It's an understatement to say this sentiment might apply to his predictions as well, but given the staggering odds against filling out a perfect bracket, it might be unfair to expect the President of the United States to nail it every time.
He is the President. He's probably been busy.