Louisville Fan Invented Modern Day March Madness Office Pool

Bob Stinson

Where did the NCAA bracket challenge come from? Obviously to have a tournament you must have a bracket but the NCAA bracket is unlike any other. Every March millions of people print their NCAA brackets and try to prognostic the tournament’s outcome. This tradition happens in no other sport so how did it get started? Many old timers who have been around since the tournament’s inception have told us that it is actually a pretty recent occurrence since newspapers wouldn’t even print the games in a tournament bracket format. Before, you would find the tournament games simply listed in columns according to dates and times.  So where did it all start? When did the NCAA tournament get its bracket obsession? Who was the mastermind that created a path for Joe Lunardi’s a profession?

RRTG researchers may have found a key piece of evidence to shed some light on the subject. A 1997 Courier-Journal article about a man who claims to have started it all with office pools.    

Here is the entire article below. Sorry CJ for not linking to the article in your archives but we could not find it electronically.

Did man lead way on NCAA pools?

By Bob Hill

The Courier-Journal

March 20th, 1997

Please let me tiptoe just to the edge of a declarative statement here, thus offering some wiggle room for other claimants to dribble into the debate.

​I’ll repeat what Bob Stinson believes: He began the first of the truly sophisticated NCAA basketball office pools around here (Louisville, Ky.) back in 1978. Before that, we mostly drew team names out of a hat and prayed we got UCLA.

​Frankly, I can’t remember exactly when the pulling-names-out-of-the-hat thing evolved into what we have today: Tens of thousands of people working feverishly over complex basketball brackets when they should be making widgets.

​Stinson, an employee of our U.S. Postal Service, was carrying the mail through the snow, rain, heat and gloom of night back in 1978. He recently sent me a letter (which arrived overnight) stating his case. His goal in 1978 had been to devise a way to wager on the NCAA basketball tournament that would reward knowledge of the game, not blind luck. It would allow a larger playoff, would not limit entrants and would sustain entrants until the last foul. In the event of a tie, the tie-breaker would be total points of the final game.

​BLIND DRAWS did not allow for such craftiness. Basketball pools – which reward games picked correctly in ascending value – did. And do.

​“Ideas crop up simultaneously,” said Stinson, now a delivery analyst with the Postal Service, “but I wasn’t aware of anybody else doing it.”

​It can be lonely at the top; Stinson could only find 15 participants for his first pool. He picked Marquette to when it all. A team from Lexington, Ky., won instead, with one James Lee putting a cap on the evening’s proceedings in St. Louis with a thunderous dunk.

​“These original 15 participants are still around to corroborate this story,” Stinson wrote. “The NCAA Office Pool continues to thrive. And an unsung Louisvillian will watch his idea bring riches to many and excitement to countless others, while his own entry will probably be snookered after the first weekend’s games. Again.”

​THIS IS the kind of column that would prompt a sane man to unplug the phone and spend the next two weeks in Cementville. Somebody is sure to call with the claim that he or she invented the NCAA Office Pool in 1939 – the first year of the tournament. But at least we now have a starting place, a legitimate nominee for Office Pool Hall of Fame – even if only in the Postal Service Division.

​For the record, there were only eight teams in the NCAA tournament in 1939, a number that had increased to 16 by 1951. In those years the NIT was considered by far the toughest, most prestigious tournament – a flip-flop of what we have now.

​From 1953 to 1974 the number of NCAA teams varied from 22 to 25, a number that helped UCLA win many titles. The seeding of teams began in 1978. Before that, geography ruled: Eastern teams played mostly in the East, regardless of the quality of opponent; Western teams played mostly in the West, etc. The number of teams grew to 40 in 1979, 48 in 1980 and gradually to the current 64 teams in 1985.

​MEANWHILE, office pools have become computerized, destroying the fun and mystery that people like Bob Stinson were trying to create.

​I hate that; it’s like the election night computers projecting a winner in New Hampshire 22 seconds after the polls close. Here at The Courier-Journal I’m now resting comfortably in 139th place among 199 office-pool entries. I have 12 teams left, but the computer tells me I have only a 0.4 percent probability of being one of the top three entrants.

​The computer’s already named the handful of people with any chance of winning. The rest of us are out of it – with two weeks to go. No riches or excitement for us. No reason to check our picks. Such is progress. What a bummer. Maybe we should draw names out of a hat.

Bob Hill suggested in this article that his phone would be ringing off the hook from people disputing this claim. The RRTG was told that no such thing happened. Actually to this day no one has publically disputed this claim. So Louisville may be the birth place of “Bracketology” and maybe we all have an answer for why Louisville leads in the ratings every year for the tournament. Bob Stinson may be the reason why you can barely find a soul in Louisville who is not obsessed with every NCAA Tourney game’s outcome. On behalf of Louisvillians and Bob Stinson, you’re welcome Joe Lunardi.


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