Bracketology and Public Policy

Don’t expect to learn a lot about how President Obama governs the country from how he fills out his NCAA men’s basketball tournament selections.  The methodology that the President, and millions of Americans must use to fill out their brackets for college basketball’s “March Madness” is fundamentally flawed. It uses poor research and unreliable data, and while this may be acceptable for the office pool, it’s far too crappy to use in making public policy.

Even if Barack Obama had the work ethic of George W. Bush, he still wouldn’t have time to provide due diligence to analyzing the 68 teams that are squeezed into a 64-team bracket. Each team has fourteen players, so the entire field of teams has 952 players. Compare that to the golden days of professional baseball when there were only eight teams in a league with a total of 200 players. Not only was that number small, but most of the players returned year after year. Thus you might only have to learn twenty-five or fifty new ones each spring. Then you would live with them day after day, getting to know perhaps more than you want to know about them.

With the NCAA tournament, you may be lucky if you know twenty-five or thirty players in total. And you don’t even know who they will be until four days prior to the tournament. Unless you’re a college basketball fanatic or a robot programmed to have roundball fanaticism, you’re plain out of luck.

Bracket-aWhile I’m quite happy for Barack Obama to take time off to indulge in fantasy basketball, the American people should not consider his or anyone else’s success in predicting winners and losers a true reflection of his intelligence or problem-solving skills. He has far more important decisions to make where the stakes are really high. One of his toughest jobs is the number-crunching that he and his economic and social policy advisors must make to determine what real cuts need to be made in the federal government budget over the next ten years. We all know that the main tool of the sequestration process is a meat cleaver. Smart policy requires a scalpel instead. When government officials decide that policy finally trumps politics, the Administration must make comparative judgments about which programs get the highest priority and which ones may have to be terminated. This work is extremely intense and excruciating. When you don’t put in the sweat equity while using the best of valid resources, you wind up with Bushian decisions, like invading Iraq for no particular reason.

It’s fun to see if Slippery Rock State College can advance in the tournament (unfortunately they weren’t invited to the dance this year), but what’s more important is the unemployment rate in Slippery Rock and the day care opportunities for families with young children. Crunch on!