Joe Lynch refused to stop the madness.
The March Madness, that is.
Thirty years ago, Lynch began a pool for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, distributing blank brackets to friends and colleagues. Like most office pools, points were awarded for correct picks and by the time a national champion was crowned, so too was a winner in Lynch’s contest.
From humble beginnings emerged a tournament pool that eventually exceeded 300 participants, keeping the Executive Director of Alumni Relations at Gettysburg College on his toes. Scoring the brackets by hand became a labor of love for Lynch, who saw his pool as a way to connect with friends from afar, as well as join the excitement produced by March Madness.
Lynch’s pool has quite a history and more than few esteemed alums. Former world-class tennis players Andy Roddick and Todd Martin have done quite well, with Martin, a former world No. 4, still holding the distinction of being the only two-time winner.
Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, placed third in 2008.
Lynch’s previous employment with the Association of Tennis Professionals opened the door for players such as Martin and Roddick to join the fun.
As Lynch was preparing to deliver invitations to this year’s pool, the sports world came to a sudden halt due to the spread of the coronavirus on a global scale. Shortly after the National Basketball Association suspended its season, the NCAA announced that the 2020 tournament was cancelled.
“It was kind of crushing,” said Lynch. “I heard about the possibility of games with no fans and was like, ‘whew, at least the tournament is going to happen.’ Last Wednesday the NBA suspended play and on Thursday I saw that Duke and Kansas were pulling out (of the tournament); thirteen minutes after that it was over.”
Undeterred, Lynch decided to come up with a way to experience the fun of filling out a tournament bracket – without an actual tournament taking place. He found the answer to that riddle by looking to the past.
Lynch thought it would be interesting to fill out a bracket from the 2010 tournament. He outlined the scoring system and a few rules, and hit ‘send’, keeping this three-decade run of holding a March Madness pool intact.
“These are crazy difficult times,” he said. “To have an opportunity to do something that might bring levity or distraction, I thought it might be nice. I love the NCAA tournament so much and to not have a piece of it – this is something to bring some of that fun of the pool and watching games back.
“From a year ago or five years ago, you wouldn’t remember 90 percent of the games. I thought it might be fun to fill out a bracket.”
Lynch said the highest number of players in his pool in a single year was 327, with entries typically coming in from 25-30 states and 4-5 countries. He said he’d be happy to have 25-50 players this year.
“I’ve been the office pool guy for the last five places I’ve worked,” he said, laughing. “It’s a great chance to connect with people I’m in touch with only once a year.”
Running a massive pool was a labor of love for Lynch, who until a few years ago scored all of the brackets by hand. He would send updates at the conclusion of every round and attach a comment to each player’s score. The snarkiest of those comments were reserved for players who ranked near the bottom of the list.
Lynch said he’ll accept brackets to his unique pool until 12:16 p.m. today, which was supposed to be the opening tip-off for this year’s tournament. Typically, prize money was awarded to winners, with 5 percent of the pot donated to the Jimmy V Foundation.
This year, bragging rights will be the grand prize.
As for filling out a bracket for a tournament that has already taken place, Lynch believes the challenge of trying to remember which teams fared well 10 years ago will be an interesting twist. And in the spirit of his revised pool, a new rule has been added to the list.
“The honor code applies,” he said with a laugh.