Cancel My Final Four Trip With Warren Buffett

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Warren Buffett comes out on top again. It’s a familiar story, told many times over the years. The Oracle from Omaha and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway may be 83 years old (and his partner and vice chair Charlie Munger is 90!), but the man still has game. He still makes smart bets, and this week he is taking pleasure in the fact he just bested 9.2 million Americans.

I was among the 9.2 million losers who picked the wrong teams in the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge with Yahoo Sports that was shrewdly insured by Buffett. He may be the only one to score a big payday out of the PR stunt. I knew the odds were long when I wrote my initial story, “The $1 Billion Advertisement Disguised as a Contest.” That was the same day I learned the word “quintillion,” which is acceptable in Scrabble for those who play and happen to draw the right seven letters on a board with the word “lion” waiting to be attacked. The odds of that happening are, well, never mind.

Robert Rivard's submission for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. (Screenshot of website).

Robert Rivard’s submission for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. (Screenshot of website).

Quicken Loans is in the hunt for young people who want a home mortgage, and contest participants had to answer a few personal questions first in order to play. Watch those in-boxes in the coming months for offers, sports fans. Yahoo Sports certainly benefitted, too. The contest drew an estimated one billion social media posts. Yes, many mentioned Buffett, who seemingly appeared on just about every cable television and talk radio program out there. Yes, Warren was the biggest winner.

Not a single entry made it to the Elite Eight stage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. With the rules limiting the participants to 15 million people, one question is why more people didn’t make a free run at the billion-dollar lottery. Maybe the answer is because they are too smart to waste their time on such a ridiculous bet.

I dreamed of attending that game with Buffett, a dream shared by millions, and adroitly negotiating a pre-tipoff, off-court settlement to mitigate his loss and guarantee my payday. Buffet would have pressed me to take $10 million as the game got underway. I would have bided my time, sipped a beer, countered with $100 million. He would have sat back and eaten his popcorn, watching me sweat. At some point I would have caved rather than risk a loss and having to settle for a humiliating $100,000. None of that’s going to happen now.

Like most, I didn’t even make it out of the first round. I bet against Harvard versus Cincinnati, of course, and I’m embarrassed to say I bet against Texas against Arizona State and Stephen F. Austin against VCU, two winning schools in my own state. My pro-Oklahoma and Oklahoma State bias cost me two more losses, having never heard of North Dakota State and forgetting what a great upset team Gonzaga is in the first round. I missed the Dayton win over Ohio State and I blew the Massachusetts-Tennessee. Along with the rest of the free world, I missed Mercer upsetting Duke. I finished 24-8, not bad, but not good enough. Four of my teams are still alive. Here’s my bracket if anyone wants to study a car wreck.

Even if I had picked all those games correctly, I had decided to go with then-undefeated Wichita State all the way, which was voting with my heart, not my brains. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Buffett probably figured a lot of people would err on the side of sentimentality in their quest to join the billionaires club. He was right. And he apparently enjoyed himself immensely. He was quoted a few days ago as saying he’d like to make the contest a bit easier next year.

The contest should have been called the $100,000 Bracket Challenge.  There are any number of people, of course, competing for the 20 $100,000 consolation prizes that will go to those who pick the most accurate brackets. No one remembers the guys who win 100K. For the paltry sum of $2 million, Yahoo and Quicken Loans scraped a lot of data that has to be worth something.

The rest of us did what we always do in March: Waste time in the office when we should have been working rather than tilting against windmills in a futile quest to pick the perfect bracket. I heard one ESPN commentator remark that there is no record of a perfect bracket ever being picked.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen next year. If Buffet’s back, I’m back. If UTSA gets in, I’ll pick ’em.

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