Saturday, March 15, 2014

Guest Post: How To Win A Large Portion Of A Billion Dollars

Every so often we turn the mike over to someone else, in part because we welcome other perspectives and ideas, and in part because anything anybody else writes is word count that we don't have to generate.

In that vein, we're pleased to welcome a contribution from game designer Rob Newns, who offers an interesting take on Warren Buffet's offer to pay a billion dollars to anyone getting a perfect bracket in this year's NCAA tournament. 


Recently, Warren Buffet made an offer to the world; the person pulls off a perfect bracket for this year’s March Madness would see themselves a billion dollars richer. It’s quite an opportunity, and I can believe that thousands of brackets will be filled out and submitted in hopes of winning the grand prize. [Editor's Note: Considering how many brackets the average fan fills out in hopes of winning $35 in their office pool, this seems likely]
However, it’s too big a prize. Your average person can’t handle a normal lottery win, let alone one that results in them becoming a part of the 1%. Additionally, $1B can be used for nobler purposes, something that Buffett has been well known for doing with his money. 
To this point, I had some thoughts on how we can use this money to help our education system, and here is my open letter to Warren Buffett asking him the following:

Dear Warren Buffet,
Can we give this money to education instead? If you’re still looking for a gambling fix, just think of it as gambling on a future generation. If that doesn’t scratch your itch, perhaps I can appeal to your investor side. Think of the billion dollar gift to education as a long-term investment in a future work force versus a short term gamble on 64 correct guesses.
I hope you will consider my proposal. 
PS. My fee for overseeing the distribution of these funds would be $40 million, but when you consider the size of the pot, a 4% fee isn’t so bad.

… did it work? No? Ok. Plan B.

Dear Coaches of the NCAA,
Would you be willing to fix the games for this year’s competition in order to receive the majority of the $609m post-tax pot over the course of the next 40 years?
PS. I still want my cut as requested in the previous correspondence.

The plan
So, how do we do this? It’s pretty simple, really. I create a bracket and keep the results strictly to myself. Before each game starts, I call the coaches and give them their roles (winner vs. loser). They put on a show, the game ends as according to my bracket, and we move through the competition. At the end, when I win, we go for the annuity, and pay the taxes on it. I walk away with 610,000 each year, and the schools split the remaining $14.6m each year for the next 40 years. 

The Hurdles
Even with such a brilliant plan, there are problems to consider. Here’s the ones I have identified.

If anyone’s going to get their panties in a bunch over this, it’ll be the NCAA. Game fixing is serious business, and fines will be levied against the teams. 
But there’s only so much they could really do. If they wanted to suspend teams for their involvement, they would have to do it across the board, and I can’t imagine they’ll have much of a next season if they suspend every team. As far as monetary fines, they can and will go this route. If we make the plan public, though, we can spin it such that every dollar that the NCAA takes in fines is one less dollar seen by higher education. Not wanting to appear too much like the bad guy, I believe their fines will be limited. [Editor's Note: It is the firm opinion of this blog that the NCAA is less rational than Neal Adams' take on Batman. On the other, there is no other hand]
Finally, we’ll have over half a billion dollars to our names. I think we could float a little fine cash from the pool.

The coaches
I can hear the coaches now. Why should I give up my chance to win a championship? A fair question. Every coach, during the course of their tenure, should have the opportunity to build a team that can reach the Final Four and win it. But how about this alternative. Which looks like a better legacy marker; one coach winning the NCAA championship, or every coach banding together to secure funds for their school and putting aside the need to win, just for one year?
Still not convinced? How about this instead. Last time I checked, you and your teams were having an issue with education. This could be a positive bit of PR for you, and reinforce your commitment to education in the wake of all these recent allegations. Put down the ball for one month, secure a reputation boost for the next 40 years.

The players
So here you are, players. It’s your time. You’ve made it to the tournament, you’re ready as a team to get to that final game, and hear the crowds cheer for you. Congratulations. Now, would you mind winning according to me?
It’s a lot to ask. Some of these players are in their senior year, and this is their last chance to cut that net down, hold up a trophy, and thank various members of their family and the coach. This could even be the moment that shows that they are ready for the NBA, and take their game to the next level. 
But let’s step back and have some real talk about the pro point. Even by the NCAA’s own numbers and surveys, only 1.2% of you will go pro successfully (Writer’s note: The source article is 2 years old now, but I highly doubt the numbers have changed dramatically in that period of time). That leaves 98.8% of you looking towards a future in the general workforce. With that in mind, let me give you some advice. When you’re writing that first resume, and you’re putting down accomplishments that you received during your time at the higher education institution of your choice, here’s two possible bullet points you could put down:
Won a single championship that one year
While this is interesting, its efficacy drops with every passing year between your win and now. Personally, I can’t even remember who won last year.
Put aside my needs to win at basketball for one month in order to help my school secure funding over the next 40 or so years
This statement has much greater staying power. It also shows the ability to overcome short term needs to support a long term goal, which is a very powerful skill to advertise to potential employers.

Bullet-proofing my bracket
So I can’t guarantee that my bracket won’t be duplicated by someone else in the world, but I will do my best, and I do have an ace up my sleeve. What’s this magical trick, you ask? I know nothing about college basketball. This is especially hilarious, considering my location at the center between Duke, UNC-CH and NC State.
This lack of knowledge becomes an asset in that my bracket will be totally random. Regardless of what basketball analysts tell you about seeds and a team’s lineup, I may or may not choose your team. Here’s some samples of my thought process:
I lived near Rutgers in my youth. They should win a game.
But an anagram of Purdue is “rude up”, which makes me giggle. They should win too
But being rude could go against a school’s honor code, so Purdue should lose their next game.
Good luck to everyone trying to match pure chaos.
If someone does match my bracket, then we do have to respect their wishes. We would approach them as a group, and offer them a smaller portion of the winnings for their cooperation with our scheme. If they don’t budge, we’ll just remind them that it’s been proven time and again that a lottery winner often sees their life get much harder when people come out the woodwork looking for handouts. Couple that with becoming a social pariah, known as the person who took nearly $300m for themselves over giving it to schools, and good luck with life. [Editor's note: Rob is a much more optimistic person than anyone we have on staff]

The Bookies
Ah, the bookies, the people most likely to lose money off of this whole deal. Also the ones most likely to become violent over the proposition. To them I say, I really don’t have a fix for you. If anything, you can still offer bets on each game’s winner with a 50/50 chance of winning. Yes, your numbers are done for this tournament, but it’s just one year of lessened payouts for you. Please don’t break me. 

Final Thoughts
At the end of all of this, the hope is that if either Mr. Buffett or the coaches ever caught wind of this idea, they would at least consider it. It’s an opportunity to improve our schools at a time when, across the country, there’s a feeling that money for education is being cut.

Do I think this plan could work? Sadly, no. People are greedy, and present bias is hard to overcome. It’s much easier to want the billions, or want to win this year’s championship to show off my coaching or help me go pro, than to work together to give basketball up for one month in order to secure funding for money education for the next 40 years. But hey, to each their own. Good luck to every team in this year’s tournament, and I hope Mr. Buffett finds his winner.

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