There are plenty of strategies for winning the NCAA office pool that have little to do with basketball — best mascots, coolest uniforms, favorite team colors.
For Tom Adams, it’s all about the math.
The systems analyst from Cary runs poologic.com, a Web site that brings a little science to March Madness. Since the site went online in time for the 2000 tournament, he estimates users could have won more than $250,000 in office polls by using his algorithm and recommended strategies.
“Pool managers hate this,” said Adams, a graduate of North Carolina, the top seed in the East Regional.
The basic science is pretty simple. Based on a pool’s scoring system, poologic.com calculates the advantage of picking an upset versus the favorite in the brackets. In a standard-scoring pool, the program doesn’t offer users much of an assist. But in a pool where picking upsets earns extra points, it can be a winner — enough to lead those running office pools to complain.
“Managers told them they didn’t like the fact they were betting so many upsets,” Adams said. “Some pool managers change the rules. There’s a bit of a battle between poologic and the people who are running the pools.”
The idea of using statistics to value one team over another isn’t a new concept — it’s pretty common these days in baseball, for example, where both fantasy players and front-office professionals use similar systems to evaluate individual players.
To take full advantage of the program, Adams warns against picking teams that are No. 1 in the polls and are local favorites. This year, he said he’s entering four brackets with Kansas, North Carolina, Texas A&M and UCLA as champs.
“It’s complicated math to figure out how to maximize your score with upset incentives,” he said. “That’s hard to do. Poologic does that for you.”
Adams’ system uses betting point spreads and team rankings from various Web sites to pick its NCAA tournament winners. He stayed home from work on Wednesday to add the latest information to the site, which got about 15,000 hits last year.
The 56-year-old developed his system after learning the Java programming language. Looking for something to do with that knowledge, he settled on a Web site for picking NCAA tournament winners. That was at the height of the technology boom, and Adams figured the site would earn him more money than whatever he collected each March.
“It was 1999, and supposedly every Web site you created was going to turn into gold,” he said.
It didn’t, and while Adams is sure others have won pools using his program, he has yet to cut down any nets. Adams won a pool using a similar strategy in 1999, but has finished in the money just once using poologic.
“I’m a bit behind,” he admits.