The March Madness final is quickly approaching, and so far no word is out that no one had a perfect bracket. It’s an occurrence that we all know is very rare. So rare, in fact, that it has never happened before. Picking every game is daunting, but there are only 64 choices… right? So at the end of the day, you’re looking at a 1 in 64 chance of winning.
Not. So. Fast.
Walt Hickey of FiveThrityEight broke down just how difficult it is to pick a perfect bracket. In his analysis, he explains why it’s so hard for us to grasp large numbers when there is no context given to us. Hickey argues that we’re really only capable of fully understanding large numbers sans context when the number is equal to a large number we already have memorized. So Hickey says his upper limit of numerical understanding is 7 billion, because there are 7 billion people on earth.
Having that context can also help us to make somewhat informed decisions or even make us better understand our odds of winning something. This may be why sometimes people play the lottery with reckless abandon. Yes the odds of winning are pretty large, but once we extend beyond our own limit every subsequent number is pretty much the same to us.
So, are you ready to find out how many possible bracket combinations there are in March Madness? Of the 63 games played there are a total of…
Or 9.2 quintillion, if you’re looking for a more bite-sized number to fit in your mouth.
When you factor in the individual probabilities for each of the games played, Hickey argues that your chance of a perfect bracket is 1 in 2.5 trillion. One of the more notable takeaways from the article that you should whip out for discussion at your next party, is that calling just half of the bracket (two regions) holds odds in 2.1 billion. By contrast, your odds of winning the powerball are 1 in 292 million. That means the odds are the same for winning the powerball or calling just one-seventh of half a bracket.
The odds of winning are deceptively, mind-numbingly large. Saying you’ll need some luck on your side is a severe understatement. You’re going to need that Jim Valvano ‘83 Wolfpack magic. Times 77.