One of the best things about March Madness is that it brings gambling back. I bet on college football and the NFL but once football is over with I’m done gambling until the next year (I’m disciplined and not a degenerate…that much). That is until March Madness. It gives me a little taste of what I’ve been missing and holds me over until training camps open. Last night I took part in a March Madness team auction where you buy teams with real money and get a percentage of the total pot for every time your team(s) win a game (0.75% of the total pot for the 1st round, 1.5% – 2nd round, 2.5% – 3rd, 4% – 4th, 5% – 5th, 6% – winning it all). I had never done a pool like this before, this was the first year of the pool, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Luckily I’ve done numerous fantasy auction leagues and am one of the biggest advocates for auctions over snake drafts so I figured that I’d be able to figure it out. Little did I know how crazy things were going to get and the lessons that I was going to learn.
The challenge of this pool is that you get a percentage of the overall pot for wins but early on in the auction you don’t know how much money is going to be in the total pot. Because of that it’s hard to estimate how much money a first round victory will be worth (which is important to know when buying teams that are seeded 5 – 13 because you are guessing that they’ll only win one game). The order of the teams put up for auction were drawn out of a hat so there was no method to this madness (unlike a typical auction). The first team pulled was Saint Louis and they went for $30. That doesn’t seem bad. Up next was one of the big dog’s, North Carolina. The bidding started out in a frenzy and then settled at $130. Since the only other team that had been bought was Saint Louis this looked like a price that was in order. The ceiling (or close to it) for teams has now been set (or so I thought). Throughout the next 15 pick or so the prices for the “likely one win and done (at best)” teams ended up way higher than I thought they were worth. Florida went for $80, Murray State $85, Montana $41, Creighton $50, Saint Mary’s $60. In my mind I considered all of these teams not even guaranteed to win their first game so there was no way that they’d return a positive investment for their owner. Throughout this time I stayed pretty quiet on the bidding front as these teams interested me as much as seeing John Clayton naked. Missouri was drawn next and this is when things escalated quickly. The bidding went from $50 to $100 to $125 faster than Tyus Edney could get down the court. North Carolina’s $130 total was quickly surpassed as the bidding finally settled down at $175. It was at this moment that everyone realized that North Carolina was going to be the steal of the draft.
This brings us to lesson number one: when doing a fantasy auction (or any auction for that matter) don’t be afraid to bid on one of the elite players early without knowing what the market is going to do later. Often times owners are hesitant to spend their money early because they don’t want to get burned and/or blow their wad. This gives you a great opportunity to swoop in and capitalize on the hesitancy of other owners.
I went into this auction with $220 in my wallet and fully expected to drop at least $175 on something. After Missouri was bought prices continued to stay high for the lesser teams. Wichita St went for $100 (which I didn’t think was bad), UConn for $55, and UNLV for $60. Baylor was now up for auction and this was the first team that I had interest in. The pricing, like before, jumped up pretty quickly. $50, $75, $100. I’m in it all along and put in a bid of $115. It looks like I’m going to get it when someone bids $116. At the time this would make them the third highest priced team. There are still a good amount of 1,2, and 3 seeds left so I end up passing thinking that I’ll have other options later to buy teams hopefully at a better value. Oh was I wrong. Immediately after that a Fab Melo-less Syracuse is put up and receives a less than exciting $125 bid. That’s slightly less than North Carolina, way less than Missouri, but still seems in line. Syracuse without Fab Melo is like watching PTI when either Tony or Wilbon aren’t there. Sure it’s the same show, but it’s not the same show. A few more teams that I don’t care about are selected and we hit the half way point. We take a break and it’s at this time that things start to come together as to what the strategy needs to be.
There’s about $2200 in the pot, half the teams are gone, and we still have some good teams left to bid on (Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Florida State). After doing some general math in my head it looks like a first round victory is going to win you about $35 or so. Knowing this I instantly realize that I’m screwed. The bidding for crappy teams hasn’t been under this (ex. Xavier $55, VCU $60, Long Beach State $50). That means that in order to turn a profit your team needs to win two games. There goes about 85% of the potential teams for me to choose from. Because the bidding had been high so far I had a bad feeling that things were going to take a turn for the worse for me…and boy did they.
Lesson number two: do you homework before your auction. Had I just done a few rough estimates of what the potential payouts could be I could have had a better strategy on all of this. Instead I shot from the hip and was playing from behind. Before I knew it it was too late. Don’t let this happen to you in your auction. All you have to do is prepare for the draft and then the rest of your auction/season will benefit from it.
One of the first teams drawn after the break was Duke. You’d think that you also got a free blow job with buying them because their pricing shot up from $100 to $150 to $160 in no time. They closed at $170, which was now the second most of any team. Rut ro. It looks like the market has corrected itself and is going to go balls to the wall on the top teams. North Carolina at $130 is starting to look like buying Google on the day of the IPO. I was interested when Vanderbilt was put up but was worried that they’d be a trendy option and thus garner some nice cash. They ended up going for $115 which was too rich for my blood considering their tournament history the last few years has been about as good as Adam Dunn’s batting average was last year. If they win two games you’d lose a few bucks, asking them to win two games AND THEN beat the number one seed is asking wayyyy too much from them. Looks like I’ll have to find a better option. A few more average teams that were bought for way too much went and then came Ohio State. The bidding started at $100 and then one guy dropped a $250 bomb on everyone. The room pretty much went silent. With Syracuse no longer looking like a true number one Ohio State now becomes the favorite in the East. Crap. My options are starting to dwindle and this gigantic jump in pricing for the top teams does not bode well for me. At this point I’m guessing that Kentucky is going to go for someones kidney and a signed Jamal Mashburn jersey.
A few more picks go and then the monster is unleashed, Kentucky is up for auction. I know that I have zero shot at this because I don’t have enough money in my wallet and people (especially ESPN and the media) have been creaming over Kentucky. With no more numbers ones left and Kansas being the only number two left everyone realizes that there aren’t a ton of options remaining. The auctioneer starts out at $100 then it goes to $200 then it goes to $250, $275, $290, and finally settles at $300. Let me remind you once again, the second pick of the draft was North Carolina at $130. Barf.
One of the rules is that if you pick a team out of the hat you are on the hook for them (the minimum bid is $2). Therefore you could get stuck having to pay this for the 16 seeds (which is the equivalent of flushing your money down the toilet). There are less than 15 teams remaining and I still have zero teams. Number 15 seed Norfolk State is drawn and someone decides to trump the $2 bid by a dollar to $3. I don’t want to sit through a 3 hour auction without something to show for it so I dish out the extra dollar and get Norfolk State for $4. I know as much about Norfolk State as I do how Nuclear Fusion works and their chances of winning are about as good as Derrick Rose and LeBron James kissing at half court ala Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. I know that I just donated $4 but I’m an optimist. 15 seed Coppin State did it in 97′ so why not Norfolk State. I figure that I’ll just wait to buy Kansas, Florida St, or New Mexico and then I’ll be happy. Once again I was wrong.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one in the room to notice that there were only a few legitimate teams left to buy. Wisconsin goes for $100 but I have no interest in them. All they’ve got is Jordan Taylor and I don’t see them going more than one round, two tops (which at $100 would break even). The same for Indiana ($100) who is less attractive now that Verdell Jones is injured. Kansas gets put up for auction and I’m hoping that I can snag them for what Missouri went for ($175). Before I can say Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje the bidding goes from $125 up to $225. There goes that idea. I’m now holding out hope for either New Mexico or Florida State.
Since I’ve been less than active at buying teams (not my fault) I decide to throw $4 on another 15 seed. Loyola (MD) is put up and to much of my delight I win the bid. Sure this isn’t the same school that Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble went to (that’s Loyola Marymount) but I’d like to think that the ghost of Hank Gathers will be looking out for me. Since Loyola Marymount isn’t in this tournament this is the next best option.
New Mexico and Florida State are the third to last and second to last teams to be drawn. I’m pretty high on New Mexico because they have been hot lately and won an impressive Mountain West Tournament. The bidding starts and goes $50, $75, $90. I’m in it the entire way. I bid $106 and think that I’ve got it. Someone trumps that and goes to $107. At this point I’m not bidding rationally. I’ve already figured out that $100 is the break even cost for a team that wins two games. As much as I like New Mexico I’m not keen on relying on them to beat number one seed Michigan State. I dejectedly bow out.
My last hope is Florida State. Despite their impressive ACC tournament and wins over Duke and North Carolina I just don’t buy into them. I have a feeling that they’ll play down to their competition, be sloppy with the ball, and rest on their ACC tournament laurels. If they lost in the first round I would not be shocked. Sometimes when you gamble, though, you throw everything out the window and do it just because (I’m sure Las Vegas loved hearing that). I decide that I’m going to get them despite all of my negative feelings towards them. If I’m lucky they’ll go for somewhere between the range that other three seeds went for: $116 (Baylor’s cost), $100 (Marquette’s cost), or $125 (Georgetown’s cost). The bidding goes $50, $100, $125, $140. We’ve now eclipsed all of the three seed prices as well as North Carolina and Syracuse’s prices. I jump the bidding up to $155 (and don’t feel good about it) when someone goes $160 followed by $165. This makes them the sixth highest priced team. This is grosser than knowing that you have to start AJ Burnett on your fantasy team. I just can’t do it. I’m irrational but only up to a certain point. I can’t in good faith spend more money on Florida State than someone spent on North Carolina. I let the other guy have them and that’s it. Davidson is the last team to go ($50) but I don’t even pay attention. I just sat through a three hour auction and all that I have to show for it is Loyola (MD) and Norfolk State. $8 spent.
The total amount of the pot at the end was around $4500. That means that you get $33.75 for a first round win, $67.60 for second, $112.50 for third, $180 for fourth, $225 for fifth, and $270 for winning it all. Had I just done some simple math and added up the first and second rounds estimated totals I would have saw that spending the extra few bucks to get Baylor would have been worth it. Hell, I could have spend a few extra bucks to get a Syracuse team that I didn’t like but most definitely had the potential to out perform their price. I have no one to blame but myself and I’d have it no other way. That’s why I love auctions.
Here are some of the prices that had me scratching my head (other than the ones I listed):
- Harvard $50
- Cincinnati $105
- UNC-Asheville $7
- Detroit $9
- Notre Dame $75
- Lehigh $10