From the Superintendent: A Lucky Bracket

by | Mar 29, 2024

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

The NCAA Tournament, known as March Madness, is one of the best sporting events in our country. I love college basketball more than its professional counterpart, and this tournament is one of the reasons why. If it were a best-of-five or best-of-seven series, more than likely the better team (on paper) would win. However, this is not a series. Instead, there is a different opponent in every round. If a team wins six games in a row, they are the champion!

As of this past Sunday morning, March 24, my bracket was busted. I picked Kentucky to play Connecticut in the final game. Inexplicably, Kentucky lost to Oakland on Thursday night. That is the joy (for Oakland – a team that few had heard of before that game) and the agony (for Kentucky – a team that hoped to contend for the title) of this tournament. By the way, Oakland lost its second game to North Carolina State and is also out of the tournament. 

There is no such thing as a perfect bracket. OK, it’s not that there’s no such thing. It’s nearly impossible to pick all 63 games correctly. The odds of picking that flawless bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of me picking up one grain of sand and you guessing the exact grain of sand I picked.

This week, I listened to a podcast about the 2019 NCAA Tournament and a gentleman named Dr. Gregg Nigl, a neuropsychologist for Veterans Affairs from Columbus, Ohio. Like many of us, Nigl filled out a couple of brackets that year without any specific pattern. As a Big Ten fan, he leaned heavily on the teams he knew from that conference and ended up throwing in some upsets along the way, like we all do. 

When the tournament began, he and his family were driving to Vermont for a ski vacation. During their drive, they stopped along the way to eat and watch some basketball. It was a long drive, so by the time they arrived on Sunday, Dr. Nigl and his family were happy to be at their destination. 

When they woke up on Monday, Dr. Nigl was surprised by a voicemail that he got from a colleague. Someone from the NCAA was calling his office looking for him. It turned out that as of Monday morning, after the first four days of the tournament, Dr. Nigl had picked a perfect bracket. There were 48 games played from Thursday through Sunday. Dr. Nigl picked every single one of them correctly. Yes, you read that correctly. Every game from Thursday afternoon to Sunday night, all 48 games, were accurate on his bracket. 

This was his 15 minutes of fame. Buick (a sponsor that year) wanted to fly him out to Anaheim, Calif, to see his beloved Michigan Wolverines play in the Sweet Sixteen (the second weekend of the tournament). He was on CNN and Good Morning America. This perfect bracket took over his family’s time in the Green Mountain State. 

In Anaheim with his son (Nigl could only take one other person with him), as he got to the arena to watch the game, he found out that the University of Virginia came back and beat Oregon, another pick he had. Forty-nine correct picks out of a possible sixty-three! But before the game started, he saw that one of his picks was in trouble. From his seat in the arena, he watched on his phone, Tennessee lost to Purdue, and his streak of accuracy was over. 

It only went downhill from there. He watched, in person, as Michigan lost to Texas Tech, and in the second game that weekend, he watched Texas Tech take out his Championship pick: Gonzaga. For the remainder of his bracket, Dr. Nigl missed on three of his eight Sweet Sixteen picks. Only one of his Final Four picks actually made it to the last weekend. All in all, he accurately picked 53/63 games in the 2019 tournament. 

This is the fifth anniversary of that fantastic string of predictions. In the podcast, Nigl shared that he and his son were talking about the trip. When his son was asked, “What was your favorite memory of the trip?” His son said, “Happy to be in a cool place with you.” 

Not being at a college basketball game in Anaheim. Not his dad being on TV multiple times. Not the hotel, the rental car, the spending money from Buick. Not his dad’s 15 minutes of fame. Being with his dad was the best part of that streak of 49 correct NCAA game outcomes. 

As parents, from the moment our children are born, we raise them to be independent beings. We celebrate all the milestones: crawling, walking, riding a bike, and driving a car. All those events are attempts for our children to grow from us. Time slips through our fingers as consistently as the seasons change. That is the gift of parenthood: time. 

For My Wife and me, we have crested over the halfway point. This year, Our Boys will turn 16 and 18 and have already had the majority of time in our home that they will spend. Our weekends are often spent in different locations, watching different sports, at different times, texting each other updates from games. Vacations to us have always been precious, but even more so as Our Boys have gotten older. We crave that unscripted time with them, away from the schedules, classes, homework, and jobs. 

What we do in education is essential; it’s critical work. The shaping of young minds, especially in 2024, requires preparation, care, and a growth mindset. It takes a district and community beyond who we see in the classrooms to get it done. Yet, the work of our families and the time with our families come first. 

“I picked the best bracket ever, and it was very lucky. But it might have been the second luckiest thing that happened to me that March.” – Dr. Gregg Nigl 

P.S. Thank you to my dear friend Mike Philbrick and the team at ESPN Daily for reporting this story. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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March 30, 2024 10:39 am

And thanks to you Dr. Ricca for sharing this story with EG (the right story at the right place at the right time ! perfect pick!)😉

Ray Riccio
Ray Riccio
April 1, 2024 8:59 am

The NCAA Tournament personally I don’t have time or especially the knowledge. My tutelage came more on studying The Daily Telegraph. But it is one of the biggest sporting events and brings with it enormous sums of money to each conference especially the further a team advances. 

I remember when the NIT was just as exciting. The Big East Tournament held at MSG, a train ride away from Kingston. Many in RI are Providence College fans and can’t leave out the URI Rams. Both sending players to the NBA, some achieving a NBA Championship Ring. If I recall URI may have been thought of to add to the Big East? 

Betting on individual games now legal easy, especially online but at one time not so. One had to go through a bookie. The movie Casino although names changed, the so called Tangiers in the movie was actually the Stardust. A place where sports betting possibly originated, out in Vegas the Parlor that started it all. The Parlor for such activity rather large and one could find themselves sitting next to a JJ Walker, Telly Savalas or others. 

But basketball NCAA. How many recall the Boston College Eagles late 1970s. As mentioned in the movie Goodfellas maybe not by the specific college but point shaving actually occurred at BC and those caught some charged some not. The Journal, Boston and New York papers were all over the story at the time. I think it all hinged on marked bills given to one of the player’s girlfriend that added to the sting. 

I was working in Connecticut at the time. States were eventually taking over the numbers game. Bookies not as prevalent. I still had connections at work to place bets on different sporting events for myself, family members and some trusted friends. Like RI I believe it was Pennsylvania that would use the ping-pong ball method for determining the state run daily number. At about the same time of the BC Eagle’s scheme it was revealed people working for the Pennsylvania Lottery were using a syringe to inject liquid into ping-pong-balls weighing them down in a limited successful attempt (until caught) to bet on the numbers that were not injected.  
For those that remember the board-game Trivial Pursuit one of the sport questions is what is the most corrupt game in all of sports. Most corrupt. In other words not limited. 

I’m hoping this year will resurrect the spectacular season of “Jimmy V.” “Don’t Give Up, Don’t ever Give Up.”


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