Sometimes, March Madness isn’t enough.
For the last four years, the folks at college basketball subreddit have built “The Conference Tournament Challenge.” It’s an exercise in mid-major madness like no other. Hundreds of contestants pick every single game of all 32 conference tournaments, from the Atlantic Sun to the Sun Belt. Every game counts. Every moment matters.
Yes, that means each contestant needs to keep up as each of the 32 conference tournaments take place. It’s a two-week frenzy that starts with obscure-to-some college basketball games and ends with Selection Sunday. As each tournament bracket is announced, it’s released on a site called Challonge and filled out by the participants. There’s a specific discussion forum for the Challenge at r/BracketChallenge, where contestants complain about outcome of increasingly obscure games. It’s great.
The annual contest, which featured nearly 800 contestants last year, is the brainchild of Alek Rivard, a moderator at r/CollegeBasketball. Heading into Year 5, the contest remains one of the signature contests on the subreddit.
“The contest started as a solo endeavor back in 2011 to hold me over until The Big Dance started,” Rivard said. “Back then I would print out all the brackets and write all my predictions down. When I joined Reddit in 2014 I brought the concept with me and invited others to join.”
Of course, the Conference Tournament Challenge is an enormous undertaking. Each of the 32 brackets have to be filled out and updated manually, as there is no big website compiling brackets for the MEAC (sad!). For conferences with reseeding, entrants fill out a Google Form bracket. The scores are all compiled in a byzantine spreadsheet courtesy of Michael, the spreadsheet guy, and updated at the end of each day.
Are you not entertained?
So...what’s the strategy? Do you pick major upsets or go chalk?
“Going for high-profile upsets can payoff but they’re not as common as people think. These teams play each other often so looking at H2H and recent play are the most important to me, along with team statistics,” Rivard says.
From personal experience, it’s much more effective to go chalk in the low mid-major rounds and then go crazy with upsets in the major conferences. I also revolve my personal strategy revolves around picking teams from the Never Made the Tournament Club and watching them lose in crushing fashion. But you can pick whatever!
Why would anyone do this? What is the point of competing over the 8/9 game in the Southland Conference? How much predictive power can someone have in the Big West Conference Tournament? Well, I believe the answer to all these questions is the same reason this blog exists. It’s fun as hell. It involves watching a lot of games featuring college players who have everything on the line. It’s basketball. Also, it’s an extremely grueling appetizer to March Madness. It also gives you an excuse to watch the Horizon League at work and offers a fun way to keep track of tournaments that can get lost in the shuffle (I’m looking at you, Southland).
I would encourage all Mid-Major Madness readers to try the Conference Tournament Challenge on r/BracketChallenge. You don’t even really need a Reddit account to participate—just use a consistent username in all of your picks on Challonge for the scraper to work. Good luck!