Americans don’t take kindly to people messing with their NCAA brackets, a reality most of the people who run major pools are acknowledging.
The expansion of the tournament field from 65 to 68 and addition of three “first round’’ games before the madness really kicks in Thursday have been met with a collective shrug.
Most fans like the symmetry of the 64-team bracket. Just as importantly, many like having until noon Thursday to fill theirs in.
“We wanted to make sure we were giving as many fans as much time as possible,’’ said Jason Waram, ESPN’s VP for fantasy and social media.
“The people that fill in brackets, for a lot of them this may be the only fantasy game they do all year . . . We didn’t want to shut people out.’’
ESPN’s bracket challenge had 5.4 million entries last year; as of early Monday it already was at 1.6 million.
Yahoo, CBS, Newsday and other online pools also will treat the first four games as freebies, as was done with those one-game play-ins on Tuesdays in recent years.
The decision was delicate for CBS, because it and Turner want viewers to consider Tuesday night’s games the real start of the event.
Bracket entrants must take into account that two of the four early games will produce winners with realistic chances to win again later in the week, complicating the decision process.
No matter. Waiting until Thursday is more inclusive, which was the deciding factor for most contest organizers.
Does the ever-rising popularity of entries surprise Waram? “You always wonder when that plateau may hit,’’ he said. “But everybody feels they want to be a part of it.’’