Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 21, 2020

Roll Them Bones: For the Becalmed Sports Fan

Preface: This post focuses on one side effect of the current Covid-19 pandemic in a lighthearted way. I intend in no way to downplay the grave nature of the crisis affecting nearly everyone on the planet. But we have to keep laughing, too. Please regard this post in that spirit. 

What’s a Fan to Do?

Nearly every sporting event on the planet — however loosely one defines “sport” — has been canceled or postponed. Whether one competes on foot, in a race car, on horseback or on a motorcycle, competition is at a standstill. Even snooker and darts championships in the United Kingdom are on hold. The closures affect every level of competition, from the youngest beginners to the most seasoned professionals, worldwide.

This also means there are no sporting matches on which to wager the mortgage money, the retirement nest egg, the college fund for the kids — with a few, scarce exceptions.

One Problem Solved

At this moment, here in the U.S., serious bettors, average fans and complete amateurs at the wagering game should be joining any of an uncountable number of “pools,” picking winners and losers from amongst the 64 teams in the annual “March Madness” tournament of college basketball. The tournament has been canceled.

Thanks to my father and one of my brothers, I’m able to offer the following stand-in Under Western Skies Virtual NCAA March Madness Roll-‘Em Basketball Pool Substitute (UWSVMMREBPS).

The UWSVNCAAMMREBPS (yes, the acronym needs work)

Benefits of the virtual March Madness tournament:

You and any number of family, friends or colleagues can play at any time. You don’t have to wait for live sports to resume.

You don’t have to sit in a closed arena with tens of thousands of other people, many of whom are bound to be obnoxious fans of That Other Team, wearing those stupid-looking T-shirts.

You do not have to actually watch any basketball.

In fact, you don’t have to know anything about basketball, whatsoever.

Conducting Your UWSVMMNCAAREBPS Tournament

Every entrant must complete their “bracket:” the chart that shows all the contestant teams through multiple rounds of play.

A sample bracket appears below. Click it, copy it, distribute it to your participants.

Pick some highly organized person to keep track of all entries. If you normally participate in a March Madness pool, that person currently has nothing to do in their spare time, and is ready to go.

Once all the entries are in, outcomes of the multiple rounds are determined by the roll of two standard six-sided dice for each game to determine the winners of each game. You must use two 6-sided dice. Only two 6-sided dice offer the probabilities on which this event is based. Like these.

Dice 7 Brad Nixon 8008 680

Determining Winners and Losers, Game By Game

There is one roll of 2 dice for each game.

The seed numbers are what matters.

The team names — favorites leading into the now-canceled tournament — are there just for the fun of it. Team names have no bearing on the outcome of this probability-based exercise.

The results are weighted against the “underdog” (least favored team) on each roll, determined by the difference between the seeds of the two opponents. A 16th seeded team vs a 1st seed team has a differential of 15. In that case, the underdog has only 1 chance for victory, needing to roll a “2” to win (a 2.7% likelihood). 

If a 15 seed and a 1 seed encounter one another later in the tournament, the difference is 14. In that case, the 15 seed has 2 chances to win, needing to roll a 3 to win, and there are two ways to make three (a 5.5% chance to win). 

A 15 seed vs a 2 seed, 13 point difference, has only 3 chances to win, needing to roll a “4” to win (an 8.3% chance to win).

And so on.

Dice Rolls Required For Underdog To Win

Use this chart to determine game outcomes.

First column: Seeding differential. For example: a 16 seed (low-ranked) team vs. a 1 seed (most highly ranked), yields a 15-point differential.

Second column: Dice roll total(s) required for underdog to win.

Any other outcome results in a win for the favored team.

15    2

14    3

13    4

12    6

11    7

10    2 or 7

9      4 or 7

8      5 or 7

7      6 or 7

6      4, 5 or 6

5      4, 5 or 7

4      4, 6 or 7

3      2 through 6

2      6, 7 or 8

1      2 through 6 or an 11

0      (no differential. Teams evenly matched. See below)

Here is an example

In round #1, South Region, 6th-seeded Virginia is playing #11 Wichita State and/or UCLA. The seeding difference is 5 (11-6=5).

Look at the 5 line in the chart. Wichita State/UCLA is the underdog. Wichita/UCLA will win if the dice roll is 4, 5 or 7. For any other dice total, Virginia wins.

If Odds are Equal

If evenly matched teams meet in the “final four,” pick one at random as “underdog” and one as “favorite.” In that case, a roll of 2 through 6 yields a win for the underdog, 8 through 12 goes to the favorite. Any roll of “7” requires a re-roll, for however many times it requires to produce a result that is not 7.

For Entrants

Make sure you include the seed number of each winner you pick when you write in the team name, since it is the seed number which is most important this year, not the team name.

Each entrant must pick a winner for each of the 63 games which will be played in the tournament.

Winning the Pool, With Options for Tie-Breaking

 The Pool winner will be the sole entrant who has picked the most game winners.

If this results in a tie, the tied entrant who picked the final tournament winner wins the pool.

If still tied, there will be ONE dice roll to pick the winner of those so tied.


If you have questions about the conduct or methodology of this system, I’ll do my best to answer them. Leave a comment, and please be patient. Someone other than I did a lot of work determining how this works.

Wash your hands, and be civil to those in need during this time of stress. Carry on.

Here is a “bracket.”


© Brad Nixon, Mark Nixon, Willard Nixon, 2020


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