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8 Alternative March Madness Pools

8 Alternative March Madness Pools article feature image

Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: NCAA Tournament Bracket

Sick of your typical March Madness bracket? Do you seem to get eliminated on the first weekend every year?

Good news: There are plenty of alternatives to the typical bracket pools that award 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 points per round. My biggest qualm with the traditional format is that you pretty much have to pick the winner to win the pool. You can have the best bracket of anyone but if your team falls in the national title game, it won’t matter (assuming other people took the eventual champion).

Our staff has knocked its heads together to come up with eight frameworks for alternative March Madness pools. They can all be tweaked and customized, particularly with the payout structure, to fit your pool participants and interests.

You can even mix and match elements from several of these formats. If you have interesting alternative pools, let us know on Twitter and we’ll add them.

8 Alternative March Madness Pools

Click a section to jump ahead.
1.Seed Multiplier
2. The Lottery Draw
3.Snake Draft
4. Auction/Calcutta
5. Survivor Pool
6. 10-Man Roster
7. Bankroll Builder
8. Squares Pool

1. The Seed Multiplier

This is like picking a typical bracket, but with one major difference — upsets are worth way more.

You multiply the points earned in that round in a normal bracket and multiply it by that team’s seed. So No. 15 Montana knocking off No. 2 Michigan would get you 15 points since you’d typically earn one point for a first-round win. No. 2 Michigan winning would get you two.

If No. 15 Montana wins again in the second round, you’d get 30 points, because you usually get two points for a second-round win. If Montana wins the national title, you’d get 480 points (32 x 15) for that win alone.

It’s not really a fair scoring system based on the math, and it still makes sense to take higher seeds because of the escalating worth of points in each round. Taking all underdogs in the first round is a good way to lose. But it gives participants an incentive to stray from the favorites, and getting a 10-seed to the Final Four can win you the pool even if you don’t pick the national champ correctly.

  • Pros: It incentives participants to take different teams and stray from favorites.
  • Cons: It’s not really a logical scoring system based on probabilities, and it still makes sense to take mostly favorites.

2. The Lottery Draw

Find an even-ish number of people, pick out of a hat until all the teams are gone. Whoever has the winning team wins the pot.

  • Pros: It’s perfect for those not interested in doing research but want to have a rooting interest.
  • Cons: You have no control over the teams and only have a rooting interest on a handful of games, depending on how many people join the pool.

3. The Draft

Like a fantasy football league, you draft teams in snake format. So with eight entries, the No. 1 pick will have the No. 16 and 17 picks, too.

  • Pros: Every participant gets some top seeds, some realistic mid-majors and some longshots. It’s a good mix.
  • Cons: You’ll only have rooting interest in a handful of games.

4. The Auction

Also known as a Calcutta Pool. There are so many different ways to do this, and they’re all pretty fun.

You host an auction with anywhere from 4-16 people. You bid on teams, and when those teams win games, you collect a portion of the total pot. Typically, there isn’t a set limit for how much one person can spend. The total pot evolves as the auction goes on, and some serious game theory comes into play.

If someone wants to spend $100 on Kansas after Purdue goes for $35, so be it.

Here’s an example payout structure with $2,000 in the pot. If your team wins the national title, you’d get 23% of the total pot because you’d collect a percentage for every win.

Why include the biggest blowout? It incentives participants to bid on the really bad teams, too.

Win% of PotMoney Won
First Round0.5%$10
Second Round1%$20
Sweet 163%$60
Elite Eight4.5%$90
Final Four7%$140
National Champ8%$160
Biggest Blowout4%$90

  • Pros: Auctions, in any fantasy and pool format, are incredibly fun. You have access to every team, there’s an incentive to be contrarian, it requires a tremendous amount of thought (in a good way) and the stakes can get really high if there’s no cap.
  • Cons: Auctions are best done in person, and if you can’t get a big enough crew together, it won’t work. They also turn into logistical debacles and can take forever once you’re through a few rounds of drinks.

5. Survivor Pool

There are a million ways to do this one, too, which is part of why it’s so fun.

But here’s an example: Each participant picks one team per day of the tournament to win straight-up, and once you use a team, you can’t use it again. If your team loses, you’re eliminated. Last person standing wins. It sounds easy, but by the Final Four, you better hope you haven’t used all the teams already or you’ll have no one left to pick.

Another fun format from our resident pool expert Stuckey — you pick four games against the spread on Thursday and must go 3-1 ATS to advance. Then you have to go 2-1 on Friday, and win one game ATS each day for the rest of the tournament.

  • Pros: There are many different ways to approach a pool like this, and the stakes get high as the tournament goes on.
  • Cons: Requires consistent attention and monitoring throughout the tournament, and participants can be eliminated faster than in a traditional bracket — literally after the first game.

6. The 10-Man Roster

A mini fantasy league taking only player points into account. Hold a snake draft where each participant drafts 10 players, trying to balance who will score when they play but also which teams will go far and have more chances to score.

The fourth scoring option on the national championship winner will outperform the leading scorer on a team that gets knocked out the first weekend.

  • Pros: Rooting for both teams to advance and players on those teams to succeed adds an additional layer of rooting interest.
  • Cons: Requires additional research beyond the teams, and you could be eliminated early.

7. Bankroll Builder

This type of pool is almost entirely betting focused, and takes a lot of management and active participation.

Participants start with, say, $100 dollars, and need to wager on games throughout the tournament and try to build the biggest bankroll possible by using that fake $100 to bet on games. You can bet all $100 on one game from the start, or $5 on 20 games. It’s so open-ended.

  • Pros: Building a bankroll over the tournament is challenging, fun, and there are so many different ways to approach it.
  • Cons: It’s hard to manage, and it takes active participants who are consistently monitoring their bankrolls and what they want to bet. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it pool.

8. Squares Pool

The idea behind Super Bowl squares can also apply to March Madness. This is a great way to have rooting interest in every game.

It’s easiest to show an example.

Let’s say I got the 7 and 9 square — 7 for the higher seed and 9 for the lower seed. If No. 2 Duke beats No. 15 Colgate in the first round 77-69, I would win that portion of the pot because the final digits finished 7-9.

Then in the Final Four, No. 2 Kentucky beats No. 1 Gonzaga 79-77, I’d win that game because the final digits finished 7-9, with the lower seed getting the nine and higher seed the eight.

Most of these pools pay out every game, but pay out more for games later in the tournament. So if there’s $5,000 in the pot, $500 may go to the person who wins the national title game.

  • Pros: You’ll have a rooting interest at the end of every game, even if it’s a blowout.
  • Cons: It’s entirely luck based, and it can be difficult to remember which numbers you have if you buy multiple squares. The buy-in also needs to be pretty high since you’re paying out 63 winners, instead of four for Super Bowl squares.

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