You Can Solve All the World’s Problems With a Bracket
On Sunday night, the brackets for both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments were announced. (You can, and should, join my own free men’s bracket and women’s bracket.) College basketball, as much as I personally love it, is not nearly as popular as it once was, but the tournament itself remains immortal. Your office will be filling out brackets all week, and your office pool will undoubtedly be won by someone who hasn’t watched a game all year.
The beauty of the bracket has always been in its definitiveness. You pour 64 teams into it, and through a series of individual matchups, you determine a clear, unquestioned champions. If you’re in the bracket, and you don’t lose a matchup, you are the champion. Sixty-four (or 68, these days) teams enter, one team leaves. You get an answer. We always want answers.
The simple purity of the bracket is its ability to provide those answers. And it makes you wish all of the world’s debates and problems could be solved so easily. This was the premise of a book way back in 2009, called The Final Four of Everything, in which writers as varied as Kurt Anderson, Franz Lidz, Franklin Foer, David Maraniss, Daniel Okrent, Virgnia Heffernan, Bill Carter, A.O. Scott, Richard Corliss and, well, me, attempted to put 64 topics into a bracket, ranging from all across the spectrum of humanity, and come up with some clear winner. Gail Collins did a bracket of First Ladies; Nancy Gibbs did protestant hymns; James McGrath Morris did biographies; Gwyneth Cravens did energy alternatives. You put them all in the bracket, you get an answer.
Does this actually give you an answer? Probably not. But it feels that way, and, honestly, it’s as good a strategy as any. I’ve always been surprised that The Final Four of Everything didn’t spark a whole franchise. Could we figure out Middle East peace this way? It sure feels like a better way to elect a President than the way we’re currently doing it. You don’t mean to tell me that if we came up with a bracket of 64 potential candidates for President and have them go one-on-one with each other, we won’t come with someone who has truly earned that office? I guarantee you Trump wouldn’t win, that’s for sure. I’m not sure he’d make it out of the first round. I dunno: Depends on the matchup.
Whenever the NCAA Tournament happens, I look at that bracket, and I think of its essential perfection. We could solve many problems this way. Through the truest heat, the strongest steel is forged. All hail the great bracket. It will be our salvation.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of six books, including the Edgar-nominated novel How Lucky, now out from Harper Books, and the upcoming The Time Has Come, released on May 16, 2023. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.