Once a year, millions of Americans attempt to beat the astronomical odds on the March Madness tournament in the pursuit of the perfect NCAA bracket.
But still, the highest scoring bracket on ESPN.com has still gotten 18 games wrong.
The attempt at perfection, it turns out, is basically futile. Several people have calculated the odds of selecting the perfect bracket, and if you thought winning the Powerball was unlikely, you haven’t seen anything yet.
There are basically two ways to look at it.
- According to maths professor Jeff Bergen at DePaul University calculated the odds, there are 263 — 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 — ways to fill out a bracket. So, were you to fill out the bracket randomly, flipping a coin at each interchange to determining who would win, you would have a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of getting a correct bracket.
- Since that is ludicrous and nobody picks their bracket like that, Carl Bialic at the Wall Street Journal calculated that for people who incorporate some basketball knowledge — the frequency that 16 seeds beat 1 seeds, win percentage, and so on and so forth — the odds of an informed mathematician getting a perfect bracket using practical knowledge are an estimated 1 in 772,000,000,000, or 772 billion.
To play fair, we’ll assume the latter probability, as most people use some sort of ranking algorithm to determine their bracket.
Still, here are 9 events that are much more likely than getting a perfect bracket at 1 in 772 billion odds:
- Randomly selecting a living human and having that person be one of the 8 living people who have walked on the moon (1 in 871,625,000)
- Randomly selecting a person who has ever lived on earth and having that person be Rick Astley (1 in 107,600,000,000)
- Odds of drawing a royal flush in in 5-card poker (1 in 649,740)
- Odds of drawing a royal flush in 5-card poker twice in a row (1 in 422,162,067,600)
- Selecting a random star in the Milky Way galaxy and having it be Alpha Centuri (1 in 300,000,000,000 )
- Randomly selecting one minute from the past 10,000 years, and having it be the minute that Julius Caesar died (1 in 5,259,000,000)
- Randomly select one of the 470,000 entries in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Randomly select a second word. The probability you selected “Business” and “Insider” is 1 in 220,900,000,000
- Randomly select an indexed webpage on the internet. Have that web page be the official Toni Basil “Mickey” music video on YouTube. (1 in 14,040,000,000)
- Pull a single piece of American paper currency from your wallet. It is a one dollar bill and the serial number of that dollar bill is K81706710E, (1 in 33,000,000,000)*.
Needless to say, don’t feel too bad about not getting a perfect bracket.
*To make this fair, I spent the aforementioned dollar bill moments before this was posted at an undisclosed location.