champ looks to repeat (virtually)
Dan Brent '04, a student in the Carroll School of Management, won
the Yahoops college basketball contest last March, he had nothing
to show for it--despite besting 110,000 fellow players in the nationwide
game run by Yahoo.com. "They didn't even send an e-mail saying congratulations.
I was kind of hoping for something, but what can you do?" he said.
Contestants in Yahoops have one assignment: to predict the seven
biggest winners each week of the NCAA basketball season. The more
points a chosen team wins by, the more points the Yahoops contestant
earns. Whoever has the most points at the end of the regular season
is the Yahoops champ.
That may seem like a simple proposition, but as Brent explained,
Yahoops has its nuances. Contestants, for example, have to "buy"
their teams, using a weekly allotment of 100 units. The higher a
team is ranked in the NCAA, the more it costs, so it's impossible
to choose only heavy hitters. (Brent points out that it's not always
smart to go with the big names, anyway: The best teams tend to play
one another a lot, and the point spreads in such matchups are usually
Most teams play only two games per week, but occasionally a team
will play three--and thus become a potential dark horse winner, since
all victory points are combined at the end of the week. Brent delves
into schedules, team histories, and the files of obscure athletic
conferences, looking for any such edge. His analysis also includes
intangibles: "Home games are big, so a team playing two home games
against lower conference teams is a good bet," he confides.
The air is thin at the top of the Yahoops hierarchy. Brent thinks
only 50 or so of the 110,000 participants put in a serious effort.
"A lot of people just say, oh, I'm going to pick Duke, North Carolina.
If you look at the top 50, everyone's picking these weird teams
that you've probably never heard of." Last year, Brent found himself
locked in a fight-to-the-finish with just one other competitor;
the rest had fallen hopelessly behind on points. He won, eventually,
by 80 points, the equivalent of a single blowout NCAA game.
Brent doesn't know the true identity of everyone he squares off
against. Last year's runner-up identified himself only as Oldheads,
an alias. "I was going to send him an e-mail or something, but I
never got around to it," says Brent, who also remained anonymous
on-line, going by the mysterious acronym TOOS.
Brent would like to repeat as champion, and so far this winter things
are looking good. It's not that he's the top performer every week--he
has never been higher than 11th in any given seven-day period--but
he's consistent. "That's what really counts, to be in the top 200
every week," he says. "Once you're in there, you've just got to
play level all year."
Photo: Brent: "They didn't even send an e-mail."
Gary Wayne Gilbert