NCAA EmblemBasketball Pools

I run a pool for our department and came up with a system which I am 90% satisfied with. It rewards those who pick the winners in the later rounds but it also rewards those who can pick upsets and entices risk taking. The biggest problem I have with most every pool I've seen is that it doesn't reward risk taking enough. What's the fun in running a pool if everybody follows the seedings and then whoever was lucky enough to pick the champion wins the pool ? My system rewards upsets but takes into account the "magnitude" of the upset both by ranking and where it occurred in the tournament. (For a more in-depth explanation why this particular scoring system is used, please check the following page). Another thing I appreciate is a pool which is easy to score on a spreadsheet (see the end of this page). Pools which employ gimmicks like picking a particular wildcard team or counting the number of upsets just aren't very amenable to automatically updating the scores.

With that in mind, here are the pool rules I've been using for the last two years. The NCAA committee has not been within the top 40% of the final results either year so people who pick conservatively won't win. By the same token, a few lucky guesses won't be enough to win either, you need to a good mix of stable wins and daring upset picks. This makes for an interesting and exciting tournament. Also, once the picks have been entered on the spreadsheet, it takes a just few seconds to update the field.

Rules 1995 Tournament:

* Winner is one with most total points at end of tournament (Tie-break will be accomplished by 1.) whoever correctly picks the highest number of upsets in the first round.) If still tied, then pot is divided between winners.

Determination of Points

* Each correct pick is awarded points for the particular round as follows:

* Additionally, bonus points will be awarded if the correct pick is an upset. The point differential between the seedings of the two teams that actually played is taken and multiplied by a bonus point factor which depends on the round.

Round Bonus Point Factor


You pick (3) Villanova to beat (14) Old Dominion in the first round and this happens. You receive 2 points for the correct pick

You pick (11) Illinois to upset (6) Tulsa in the first round and this happens. You receive 2 points for the correct pick + (11-6) x 1 = 7 points

You pick (3) Villanova to upset (1) Wake Forest in the quaterfinal round and this happens.You receive 8 points for the correct pick + (3-1) x 4 = 16 points

You pick (3) Villanova to upset (1) Wake Forest in the quaterfinal round. Villanova does win this game but they actually played (8) Minnesota who upset Wake Forest earlier. You receive 8 points for the correct pick and no bonus points.

You pick (4) Oklahoma State to upset (3) Villanova in the quaterfinal round. Oklahoma State does win but they actually played (2) UMASS.You receive 8 point for the correct pick + (4 - 2) x 4 = 16 points

Note: Picks must be contiguous. I.e. you cannot have North Carolina getting upset in the second round and then miraculously have them appear in the final four.

Note - Another way to think about this is you have two types of points, the first is game points and the second bonus points. These automatically increment by round (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) so the more important games get more points and help offset the fact that less games are played as the rounds increase. How important these two types of points are in the pool is adjusted by a game and bonus multiplier. In my example above, the game multiplier is 2 and the bonus multiplier is 1. When you run your pool, you can adjust these multipliers depending on how you feel about the relative importance of upsets and higher round scores.

Calculating the Results

I use a spreadsheet to keep track of the pool results. You do not need to use the rules above to run this spreadsheet, the key is that the scoring per game be independent of the history of the picks by the participants (i.e. if you pick the winner, you get a certain number of points no matter what other picks you made).

The spreadsheet consists of two empty columns, in the first you enter the name of the winner and in the second the number of points won for that game (based on the above or your own scoring system). Other columns are adjacent to these columns, two columns per participant with the first column for the team name of the pick and a second column to calculate the points won. Use an equation similar to:

=IF($WinnerName = PickName,$WinnerNumber,0)

where the $ signifies that the two columns with the actual winner name and winner number are anchored within the spreadsheet.

If you keep the games independent of the history of the picks, then you only need to enter the winner name in the WinnerName column and the correct number of points in the WinnerNumber column. If the participant pick equals the winner name, the points are automatically transferred. Simple.


  1. For a big pool, you might want to turn automatic calculation off.
  2. To simplify entering data, you might want to enter the NCAA committee picks and then just paste those into a participant's picks column before you begin typing. That way, you only have to type in the upsets.
  3. You can set up a table for the results, and then run a macro on that table which will sort, print and even email the results out.
  4. With a few clever calculations within your spreadsheet, you could do just about anything you want.

If this interests you but you want a working example, Download an example file. Or you could use this file to perform simulations on a real-life pool to see how different scoring methods affect the outcome. This file was created on Excel 4.0 on a Macintosh and is in .hqx format which means you might need an expander from Aladdin.

Have Fun !!!

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