Stages of NCAA bracket grief

Originally Published: March 17, 2010
By Adam Watson | Special to Page 2

Your bracket is a masterpiece.

You're so confident about your picks that you wrote out West Virginia instead of "WVU" just so it will look that much better when it's framed in the Smithsonian for being the first documented case of a perfect bracket.

This March Madness will be different from the rest. You'll still be in contention for your office pool after the first two rounds. No longer will you accept making it to Saturday as a moral victory. Your research was too thorough this year. Much to your wife or girlfriend's dismay, you watched more regular-season college basketball than ever. This is your time.

But just in case it's not, we at Page 2 would like to prepare you for the three stages of bracket grief and tell you who to root for when all seems lost. We've even enlisted a couple of sports psychologists to help.

Stage 1: Disbelief

It will be hard to accept that what once felt like a winning lottery ticket is now just a piece of paper crisscrossed with red X's. You'll have questions. Sure, Purdue is missing star Robbie Hummel, but how could 13-seed Siena knock off the 4-seed Boilermakers? How could Jon Scheyer go 2-for-13 from the floor and Duke get knocked out by Cal in the second round when you had the Blue Devils in the Final Four? You'll pore over the box scores searching for answers, but that won't change the fact that your bracket is ruined.

Dr. Ken Ravizza, a professor of applied sport psychology at Cal State- Fullerton, says it's normal as a fan to go through frustration and disbelief. "When you pick your March Madness brackets, there's a personalization there," he said. "And when your teams get eliminated, there's definitely a sense of loss."

Stage 2: Envy

With your bracket in shambles, it will become unbearable to watch your friends get game after game correct. Now is the time to root against their picks. This is the only instance when it's acceptable for a Pitt fan to scream for Georgetown. Bracket misery loves company, even if it means cheering on your regular-season rivals. The only thing more satisfying than getting picks right is watching your friends get them wrong.

But if that won't do, Carol Margolin, a sports psychology consultant in Denver, suggests you do something you have more control over. "If you just can't get over your bracket results," she said, "play a game of H-O-R-S-E with a little kid and show no mercy."

Stage 3: Acceptance

It's only a matter of time before you and your friends have crumpled up your brackets and hurled them across the room. But with so much basketball left to be played, you have to find the joy again. The key is rooting for upsets. Go for the underdogs all the way to "One Shining Moment." If you couldn't win it all, why should Kansas or Kentucky?

The important thing to remember once your brackets start collapsing is to keep things in perspective, Ravizza said. "Four million people, the entire country of New Zealand, follow their national rugby team, the All Blacks," he said. "When they lose, it affects the country's stock market."