The Marshall Plan: NCAA brackets and chasing perfection

“We’re not perfect…no we’re not…we’re not perfect…but I hope you like us that way,” sang my two-year-old daughter as she spun around to a song by children’s singer Laurie Berkner.
She was singing this cute little kid’s song, but there was a message in it, complete with a smile and giggle.
What is perfection? Defined it is an absence of flaws, or freedom from defects.

Perfection has been a problem for mankind since the beginning. Ever since humans either climbed out of the primordial ooze or fell from grace in the Garden of Eden we’ve chased perfection in art, architecture, government, sports and, of course, our brackets.
I, like millions of others, have failed miserably.

We all know the source, those maddening collections of brackets that turn moms, bankers, soldiers and even politicians into momentary basketball experts. It tempts you just long enough before the odds start crumbling your house of cards.
Homers like me fall into the trap of regional loyalty.
Farewell and adieu JMU!
Did the Hoyas really lose to a credit union?
Et tu VCU!
Like that famous gap between Adam and God on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling there’s a gap that symbolizes our separation with perfection. Need an example? Just shoot a few three-pointers and feel the rush of pride if you swish a few ― now do it 64 times.
How’s the pride?

There’s always a bit of luck involved in sports ― a shot from mid-court or a lucky tip.
One of my friends is a waitress, not a sports writer. She proudly reported to me that she had 10 teams left in the Sweet 16, seven left in Elite Eight, and all four left in the Final Four.
I asked her for her method…in myself almost despising.
“Dumb luck,” she said.

This has the mentality of a shot in the dark, like a dart thrown with a laugh at a carnival balloon.
For nearly every fan the brackets start off like Internet stocks in the 1990s.
There’s gleaming and beaming ―then the upsets begin. The bubble pops.
How can journalism grads handle the 9.2 quintillion variations on the brackets?
For the record, I didn’t even know what Synthetic Analytic Geometry of Space meant when I saw it on a dusty old book. In mathematics, there was no recovery once letters started appearing within math problems. In fact, it took a Marine Colonel in military school to force-march me into a C in Algebra.

Politics and economics also taught me that statistics deceive like a siren’s song.
Sports should be held to a higher standard, but it’s not.
Have you ever heard an expert talk about the threat of a shark attack at the beach?
“You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning,” they like to say.

That’s reassuring unless you are that guy.
Reverse that and you have an office pool’s bracket winner.
Indeed, the perfect bracket may be impossible, but that’s why there are so many companies offering millions of dollars in prizes.
So you’re saying, there’s a chance? Yes, but it’s like the line in Dumb and Dumber.
“Over the course of my lifetime I’ve won a few NCAA bracket pools and a couple of Fantasy Football League Championships. Each one has brought a greater sense of satisfaction than earning my college degrees,” said Paul Johnson, an insurance salesman.
Notice that his job also deals in odds.

As of Tuesday the President of the United States had one more pick correct than my friend the waitress.
Commanders of the once great Roman Legions always had a servant whisper in their ear during victory parades, according to General George S. Patton in the film Patton.
“Remember that all glory is fleeting,” the servant whispers.
Marshall Conner is a freelance writer for Culpeper Times.