published Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Wiedmer: Who wants to be a billionaire?

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    2013 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament bracket
    Staff Photo Illustration

The practice of Bracketology just got a whole lot more crowded.

Thanks to Quicken Loans Inc. and investor Warren Buffett's Omaha, Neb.,-based Berkshire Hathaway, some lucky hoops genius can win $1 billion if he or she can correctly pick the winner of all 63 games in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament.

That's right. $1 billion. With a capital B, which is why Bracketology is capitalized in the first sentence of this column. When a bracket can earn you a billion, it deserves a Big B.

Or should you choose to write it numerically -- $1,000,000,000. Which is $15,873,015.00 (rounded off) for each of the 63 games you'll have to pick correctly -- they're apparently giving you the play-in game winners for free in the 68-team field -- to theoretically never have to work another day in your life.

Cupcake city, huh?

And the most beautiful part of this is that almost all of us have filled out a bracket at least once, plopping down a cool George Washington or two to collect maybe a cool 25 or 30 bucks. So what if this pot is seven digits or so north of that, and can only be won by perfection.

It's not like it's impossible. Some have predicted the odds are only one in 9,223,373,036,854,775,808. If you've never seen that many digits before, it's officially 1 in 9 quintillion. With odds like that, some of you probably already are shopping for your new Lamborghini. Or maybe one for each day of the week, since the luxury automaker's Aventador Roadster will set you back only $445,300 per.

And really, what's $3,117,100 for transportation when you can either choose to accept $25 million a year for 40 years or take a lump-sum payment of $500 million? Factor in taxes and you'd probably still have more than $300 million. Even Evander Holyfield would need a decade or so to run through a nest egg the size of that.

But here's more good news: According to The Atlantic's online site, DePaul math professor Jay Bergen believes those odds are far, far too high. He estimates your chances to be a fairly workable 1 in 128 billion, since a No. 1 seed never has lost to a No. 16 seed in the opening round.

Another stat courtesy of The Atlantic: If every person in the United States filled out a bracket every year, we'd get one $1 billion winner every 400 years.

When you look at it that way, this contest is almost stealing.

So what led to this? Was Buffett emboldened by Creighton's improbable win over No. 4 Villanova on Monday night, his home city school pounding the Wildcats by 28 points on the road thanks to 21 made 3-pointers?

After all, anyone who could have predicted that might be a candidate for that $1 billion. Heck, the way Buffett's correctly predicted so many other business developments on his way to amassing more than $58 billion worth of wealth, perhaps he could win the pool, assuming he's eligible to win his own money.

In truth, the folks at Quicken Loans -- which was founded by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert -- said the reason for this Billiontology was actually quite simple.

"We've seen a lot of contests offering a million dollars for putting together a good bracket, which got us thinking, what is the perfect bracket worth?" Quicken Loans president Jay Farner said in a release. "We decided a billion dollars seems right for such an impressive feat."

There are rules, the biggest one being there's one entry per household. So unless you already own multiple homes, you and your kids can't pick three different winners and improve your odds.

What you can do is key in "Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket" beginning March 3 to begin the free registration process. It runs through March 19 (after the four play-in games are completed). All those registering prior to Selection Sunday will receive their brackets online the evening of Sunday, March 16.

To be eligible, you must be 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen and one of the first 10 million to register.

One other thing: Assuming no one wins, all qualified entrants are eligible for the 20 awards of $100,000 for the contest's 20 most accurate imperfect brackets.

There are clearly issues here. For one, business productivity in this country could reach an all-time low on the first weekend of March Madness if 10 million Americans believe they've got $1 billion on the line with each jump shot or free throw.

And not to be paranoid, but if we get to the final weekend with one or two less-than-honorable folks still in the hunt, who's to say a few players or officials won't be approached to help ensure a certain outcome. A chance to pocket $1 billion could make criminals of a lot of us. And with that kind of money it might not be too hard to find an island somewhere outside of U.S. jurisdiction.

Sure, it's all probably wasted time and ink and energy.

As ESPN's John Diver, who has seen not a single perfect bracket among the nearly 30 million submitted to the network's Tournament Challenge over the past 16 years, said Tuesday: "I don't want to say it's impossible, but it's basically impossible."

But basically is not completely.



Contact Mark Wiedmer at

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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