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March Madness brackets are out. Start flipping your coins!

Mar 16, 2015

The madness has begun: March Madness brackets are out. Lots of time and money go into those basketball pools, all a result of the national obsession with brackets.

Brackets are out so you can start flipping your coins and making your picks!
Credit FLICKR THE D34N / FLICKR

It turns out, though, that you’ll have a better chance of having a successful March Madness bracket by flipping a coin.

Professor Dae Hee Kwak, an assistant professor of Sports Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology, recently published a study in the Journal of Gambling Studies.

In conducting this study, he focused on what he calls “winning confidence.” That's the confidence a person has when filling out a bracket.

In his first study, he examined whether the act of filling out a bracket itself shores up a person's confidence. One group was given an already-filled-out bracket, while the other was given a blank bracket to fill out themselves. Adjusting for participants' prior basketball knowledge, he then asked participants to rate the likelihood that their bracket would win from 1-100%. 

Kwak said those who filled out their brackets were confident they would win, but it wasn't clear whether confidence had an impact on the overall result of those brackets.

He conducted a second study that involved betting. As gambling literature would predict, the “high confidence” groups bet 2.6 times more than “low confidence” groups.

However, according to the data gathered, people who reported high confidence did not outperform those with low confidence.

Flipping a coin

In 2011, Kwak conducted a study to determine whether someone flipping a coin would have a better chance with the bracket than someone with expert knowledge.

In 2011, not one of the top seeds made it into the Final Four.

“In the same year that we conducted this study, three basketball analysts from ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports, they got their own predictions on the Final Four and only one analyst out of three got one team out of four correct,” Kwak said. “So 11/12 teams were incorrect, but we would not argue that those analysts are less knowledgeable than the basketball average fans.”

“I think it depends on how many upsets we have, but that’s something that we can’t really predict in advance.”

-Lindsey Scullen, Michigan Radio Newsroom