Welcome to Fake March Madness
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because without real tournaments, you’ve got to improvise.
By Andrew Mentock
With fewer than 40 seconds left and Texas leading Xavier 88-77 on Tuesday night, color analyst Bill Raftery informed his legendary announcing partner Verne Lundquist that the Musketeers no longer had a chance of making it to the program’s first-ever Final Four. “I think this game is out of reach, Verne,” Raftery said. “There’s just not enough time for a comeback.” As for the No. 11 seed Longhorns, who advanced out of the First Four, their virtual March Madness lives on.
Tuesday’s broadcast on the YouTube channel associated with college basketball subreddit r/CollegeBasketball was a simulation generated on Electronic Arts Sports’ College Hoops 2K and is one of a slew of online basketball tournaments stepping in to fill the void for millions of sports fans stuck at home with nothing to watch, as the coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel March Madness. You can even win prizes as if you were filling out your bracket in a world that hasn’t gone haywire.
The simulations use outdated iterations of College Hoops 2K — the game was discontinued in 2010 — advanced analytics, random number generators and the opinions of experts. Some simulations will allow fans to still watch the games, while others will convey results through articles and game recaps. The simulations tip off this week, following the intended schedule of March Madness, and will last for up to three weeks, when the fake confetti falls and “One Shining Moment” plays.
The innovative fantasy sports startup Fanvest Wagering Exchange announced on social media shortly after the men’s NCAA tournament was canceled that, via its website, a simulated beta March Madness Portfolio Challenge would take the tournament’s place. Instead of traditional gambling on sports and college basketball, Fanvest has turned its simulated tournament into a microcosm of the stock market, where teams can be purchased at the start of each round like shares and returns are based on whether a team wins and by how much. Each user will start with 10,000 “Fanbucks” to invest. While the contest is free to enter, users with the best total gain at the end of the tournament will receive (real) cash prizes, with the top 50 spots paying and the overall winner taking home $100. “By innovating and being dynamic, we feel we’re better positioned than traditional sportsbooks,” says John Culver, Fanvest co-founder and CEO.
Ultimately, it comes down to no one has anything to do, so why not watch these kids play this video game?
Josh Safran, co-creator, Corona Madness
For fans of the women’s game, High Post Hoops is using advanced analytics from RealTimeRPI.com, a random number generator and input from the publication’s journalists to simulate the tournament. While there will be no games to watch, coverage of each game will be extensive.
Each High Post Hoops journalist is tasked with writing pregame previews and game recaps based on the simulated results — with considerable creative freedom for the “pretend exercise,” says High Post Hoops Editor-in-Chief Howard Megdal. There will also be a podcast to introduce the tournament, and several women’s college basketball and WNBA coaches, including UCLA’s Cori Close, Princeton’s Carla Berube and Ohio State’s Kevin McGuff, have agreed to provide postgame press conferences and analysis.
Others are working hard to give fans tournament games to watch, potentially full of surprise outcomes and last-second shots. Using slightly different approaches, a handful of Reddit moderators and two Philadelphia-area members of Gen Z still living with their parents are creating March Madness simulations using old versions of College Hoops 2K, with updated rosters.
Under the name Corona Madness, Jackson Weimer, 21, and Josh Safran, 19, decided to create their own bracket and play out the tournament themselves with assistance from their fathers and a few friends. They are streaming the games live on the Twitch account for eBaum’s World, a website dedicated to wacky memes and wild videos. “We were looking around the internet and, ultimately, it comes down to no one has anything to do, so why not watch these kids play this video game?” Safran says. Corona Madness also included a live “Selection Sunday” show to fill the bracket.
While the subreddit r/CollegeBasketball is also utilizing College Hoops 2K for its March Madness simulation, the moderators have decided to allow the artificial intelligence function of the video game to determine the outcomes instead of playing it themselves. You can watch the games on the page’s YouTube Premieres account. Moderator Dave Tangeman predicts that more than 300 unpaid working hours will be put into the venture.
No simulation can replace the buzz of a real college basketball game, of course. Another potential problem is that the NCAA tournament is so much fun because of upsets. Fans want to see a No. 16 seed defeat a No. 1 seed, which happened for the first time ever two years ago when Virginia lost to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the first round.
“I’m moderately interested in the simulation of individual games,” says Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s famed “bracketologist” who predicts the March Madness field every year. “What could be missing in those cases is the unusual storylines and the unexpected. If you stimulate something 10,000 times, the majority outcome is what you’re going to get, right? If you simulated Virginia versus UMBC from two years ago 10,000 times, UMBC might win three times. The reason we watch the tournament is for the three UMBC wins.”
With any luck, at least one of these simulations will have a Cinderella story. But amid a lockdown, hoops fans will take what they can get.
- Andrew Mentock, OZY Author Contact Andrew Mentock