Roy Exum: 92 With 17 Zeros Behind It

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The key to the whole thing is to have fun -- don’t stick me among the naysayers or the critics when it comes to picking the NCAA basketball bracket. When the 68 teams that will compete in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships were chosen Sunday night, I was quick to jump in among literally millions of people like me and immediately began trying to predict the outcome.

For the record, it has never been done in a documented way but if you were to defy the staggering odds of one-in-9.2 quintillion (that’s 92 with 17 zeros behind it), Warren Buffet wants to give you $1 billion dollars. Are you kidding me? The deal is the first 15 million who want to play have until 1 a.m. Wednesday to go online at and, after you register for the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, fill out your best guesses.

It doesn’t cost a penny to play but there’s a catch; Quicken Loans, the fourth largest home mortgage lender in country, will have your name and email address after you register. That’s what they get for putting up $1 billion in prize money. And if they begin to bug you months from now, that’s what the “spam” key is for on your computer. C’mon, this is fun.

The easy way to pick a bracket is “the chalk method,” where you simply take the lower seed in each game. Last year got 32 of the top college basketball writers to fill out brackets and only 12 would have earned more than “chalk” bettors in Las Vegas.

“Bracketology” is much more fun. That where you study the two teams, look at strength-of-schedule and then factor in such totally unseen variables like Kentucky’s James Young slipping as he drives the lane, which gave Florida that one point win in the SEC finals Sunday afternoon.

Listen to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi: “I’ve got three words for that: can’t be done. Warren Buffett didn’t get to be Warren Buffett by betting $1 billion that he thinks he’s actually going to lose.”

And Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway netting $19.5 billion last year, is having great fun with the Challenge. He won’t say what the insurance policy cost but already the publicity is worth it. ESPN’s Rick Reilly talked to “The Oracle of Omaha” not long ago and revealed when Buffett’s kids were young, he would give them their allowance in dimes. That was because he had a 10-cent slot machine in the back of his house and knew he’d get most of his money back that very night.

Reilly asked Buffett a great question – what if one fan got all the way to the final game with a perfect card? Would Warren try to buy him out before the tipoff? “Well, I'm not sure Quicken would let me do that," he told the columnist with a healthy laugh

"But if it were me, I'd definitely offer a deal. ... Mathematically, it should be half of the $500 million -- $250 million. But it's all relative. If I offered you $100 million to call off the bet, I bet you'd take it. Because $100 million to you is about the same as $250 million. But $100 million versus zero? That sounds a lot worse."

Buffett is more worried that somebody will try to cheat. “There are two big risks in this," Buffett told Reilly. "One, somebody does it. Two, somebody tries to screw us."

For a billion dollars it isn’t hard to imagine a team of hackers changing brackets, or launching an inside job. But it just so happens the largest stock holder of IBM is Berkshire Hathaway so Buffett has the computer giant hired to make sure nothing happens. Then again, he told Reilly, “If some guy from IBM wins, I'll be a little suspicious."

 * * *

For the record, I picked Louisville, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, to win the tournament on April 7 in Texas. I think the Cardinals are the hottest team in college basketball right now and that they will beat Kansas in the finals. My other Final Four teams are Virginia and Arizona.

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