Seattle biostatistician's NCAA pool runs pretty deep
The ultimate March Madness office pool, which gives more value for upset picks, was designed by Ted Gooley, a Seattle basketball fan and biostatistician who analyzed every NCAA men's basketball tournament since 1985.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hey, you, the guy who runs the annual March Madness Office Pool.
You want to keep doing the same old dreary pool that gives as many points on luck as on knowledge of the teams, or are you ready to ... turn it up a notch ... take it to the next level ... bring out your "A" game ... make this a whole new ballgame?
Because thanks to local biostatistician Ted Gooley, you can run an ultimate March Madness office pool.
I know, I know, running the office pool can be a hassle.
You can't even remember how you became the designated Office Pool Guy, doing your bit for what Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates will be $192 million in lost productivity from distracted office workers during the three-week basketball tournament.
The Chicago outplacement company acknowledges that $192 million is a "loosey-goosey estimate," but amid March Madness hype, who cares?
Anyway, as the Office Pool Guy, every year it's expected that you'll e-mail the announcement, collect the $5 or $10 entry fee from everybody, then nicely keep reminding the laggards who "forget" to drop off their money.
In your own way, think of your efforts as contributing to the economy.
According to R.J. Bell, founder of pregame.com, a Las Vegas sports-betting information site, an astounding $12 billion will be bet this year on the NCAA men's basketball tournament, of which $3 billion will be from office pools. Bell says his estimate is not loosey-goosey, but from his many contacts.
Gooley went through considerable effort to put together his Ultimate March Madness Office Pool.
It is based on his mathematical analysis of every March Madness tournament since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams. Most brackets ignore the "play-in" games that now have the tournament starting with 68 teams.
Math is something that Gooley knows plenty about.
He has a Ph.D. in math, is a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and also is an affiliate professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington.
His pool really rewards picking upset winners.
Like if you picked a No. 16 seed team to win it all, you'd earn a monstrous total of 20,940,116.6 points. That sure is a lot more points than your everyday office pool.
That's because a No. 16 seed has never won it all.
But if you went with a No. 1 seed to win it all, you'd earn only 20 points, as a No. 1 seed has won the tournament 16 of the past 26 seasons.
"Mine is grounded in a particular theory," says Gooley about his office pool.
The other pools, he says, even those that give more points for picking correct teams as the tournament progresses, aren't based on any kind of math analysis.
"They just sound good, or are easy to do," says Gooley.
This is the kind of math analysis that his Ultimate March Madness Office Pool has:
P(2,5) = P(2,4)[u(1,1)P(1,4) + u(0,2)P(2,4) + u(-1,2)P(3,4) + u(-2,2)P(4,4) + u(-3,2)P(5,4) + u(-4,2)P(6,4) + u(-5,2)P(7,4) + u(-6,2)P(8,4) + u(-7,2)P(9,4) + u(-8,2)P(10,4) + u(-9,2)P(11,4) + u(-10,2)P(12,4) + u(-11,2)P(13,4) + u(-12,2)P(14,4) + u(-13,2)P(15,4) + u(-14,2)P(16,4)]
You want to argue with that?
Gooley, 48, grew up in Eastern Washington, in a little Lincoln County town called Harrington that's 50 nowhere miles west of Spokane.
He played point guard and shooting guard on his high-school basketball team and also played football. As he points out, it wasn't hard to make the teams, as his graduating class in 1980 had only 16 seniors.
It always gnawed at him, he says, that, say, if in Round 1, you picked a No. 16 seed team to beat the No. 1 seed team, you still got the same amount of points as if you picked the No. 8 seed team to beat the No. 9 seed team.
Since 1985, a No. 16 team has never beaten a No. 1 team.
But a matchup between a No. 8 team and a No. 9 team is statistically a toss-up, says Gooley.
So in his spare time, Gooley began putting into a spreadsheet the statistics for all the March Madness games since 1985.
The first year for his Ultimate March Madness Office Pool was in 2007, and he had about 30 participants in his $5 pool.
Then he had to use his chart to calculate by hand how many points participants got in each round.
The next year, as word got around, he had 70 participating. Last year it was 123.
No, says Gooley, he's not accepting new participants. Organize your own pool.
By now, too, Gooley has a computer program that automatically tracks all participants and adds up their points.
He says that even without such a program, if you have two dozen participants in the pool, you can use a calculator and maybe spend one to two hours in computing the totals.
Given all his statistical expertise, Gooley hasn't done well in picking the March Madness winners.
He's never finished in the top 10 in his own pool, although his wife, Deborah Gooley, an Everett elementary-school teacher, in the past three years has finished in the top five.
"I don't have a clue," he says about his wife's picking abilities. "She won't tell me."
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.orgTips for March Madness pools
Courtesy of R.J. Bell, founder of pregame.com, a Las Vegas sports-betting information site:
• Pick no more than two seeds worse than No. 12. No. 16 seeds are 0-for-104 in the modern era (since 1985). No. 15 seeds are 4-for-104. No. 13 and No. 14 seeds combined win only 18 percent of first-round games.
• Don't be shy about picking upsets with No. 12 through No. 9 seeds.
• Give special consideration to picking No. 12 seeds: At least one No. 12 has won in the past 20 of 22 years.
• No. 9 seeds have won more than half their games (54 percent) vs. No. 8 seeds.
• Advance No. 1 seeds almost automatically into the third round. No. 1 seeds win their first two games 88 percent of the time.
• Keep advancing the No. 12 and No. 10 seeds you picked to win in round one. These teams win about half the time in round two (No. 12s actually win more than 50 percent in the second round). A double-digit seed has made the Sweet Sixteen 24 of 26 years. Only once in 26 years have all the top three seeds (Nos. 1, 2, 3) made the Sweet Sixteen.
• Seeds worse than No. 12 do not generally win in the second round. Only six of 416 teams that have advanced past round two were seeded worse than No. 12.
Sweet Sixteen rules
• Advance exactly three No. 1 seeds into the Elite Eight. There's no reason to buck the math: 72 percent of No. 1 seeds advance into the fourth round (that's a higher percentage than No. 5 seeds who win a single game).
• Advance no team worse than a No. 11 seed into the Elite Eight (24 have made it to the Sweet 16, but only one has ever advanced).
Elite Eight rules
• Advance one or two No. 1 seeds to the Final Four. Amazingly, the Final Four has included exactly one or two No. 1 seeds 21 of the past 26 years.
• Advance no team worse than a No. 8 seed to the Final Four. Only two of 104 Final Four teams have been seeded worse than No. 8.
Final Four rules
• Advance no team worse than a No. 6 seed to the championship game. Not a single one has made it in the past 25 years.
• Pick a No. 4 seed or better to win it all. For 22 straight years, the champion has been a No. 4 seed or better.