I love March. It used to be that I looked forward to March because it’s my birthday month and the start of lacrosse season. As I’ve gotten older, I tend to shy away from the upward ticking birthdays and focus my attentions on coaching lacrosse. But let’s not forget about the most important thing the third month has to offer. Nope, we’re not talking about spring, folks. We’re talking March Madness.
My family and I love basketball. I’m a proud Tar Heels fan while my wife, Lynne, loves the University of Kentucky Wildcats. How deep is her love? She’s reading John Calipari’s memoir to our four boys as a bedtime story. Really.
March Madness is that rare sporting event that attracts even casual fans to the on-court action. People who haven’t watched a single college hoops contest all season will eagerly fill out a March madness bracket sheet and toss $10 in the pot.
Remember a few years ago when billionaire investor Warren Buffett offered up a $1 billion prize to anyone who guessed the exact winning combination of the 64 teams? You heard me, $1 billion.
The prize was open to the public. Of course, no one made all the right picks, so no one scored the cool billion (or you would have heard about it). But since then, in 2015 and 2016, Buffett promised $1 million a year for life to anyone employed for his company Berkshire Hathaway that guesses the perfect Sweet 16 correctly. Still, no winners.
Just this past week, he upped the odds for the 2017 offer to Berkshire employees, big time. What’s a winner gotta do? Just correctly guess the first 32 games.
Okay, this sounds a lot easier, but is it easy? Let’s run the numbers.
To do this, we have to use exponential math. The calculation for odds of guessing a perfect bracket is 2 to the X power. Going back to the 2014 offer, the probability of picking the perfect bracket is 2 to the 63rd power. (Not 64th, because remember one team doesn’t lose.) So what’s 2 to the 63rd power? Oh, about 1 in 9 quintillion. Just as a refresher, numbers increase to billion, trillion, quadrillion, and then quintillion.
For golfers out there, imagine hitting a hole-in-one on five consecutive par 3 holes. Or imagine winning the Powerball and Mega Millions lottery in the same week with only one ticket for both. These are the odds we’re talking.
Granted, the odds above don’t take into account knowledge of the game. But even if you factor in educated guesses (like knowing a 1 seed has never lost to a 16), you still only bring the odds of a perfect bracket down to 1 in 128 billion.
So back to the original question – the 2017 offer is easier, but is it easy? Remember, you only have to pick the first round perfectly. Here the math is 2 to the 32nd power. Calculate it out and you get 1 in 4.3 billion. Better odds, but not good ones. But Buffett isn’t a sore winner – if no one hits it big, then the best “bracketologist” will get $100,000.
To all of the 367,000 people worldwide who work for one of the Berkshire companies, it’s time to go big or go home. While the odds may not be in your favor, remember, you’ve got to play to win.