Checking in With Joe Lunardi, the King of Bracketology

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By Amit

With your phone constantly ringing at this time of the year, who is most likely to be on the other end? Are there those trying to campaign, feeling like you have some influence?

At this point, it’s mostly within the network. My primary role is to feed information to our production people, the studio hosts, the analysts, and for all those graphics that appear on TV or crawl across the bottom of your screen. My oldest daughter was in college and she called me and said, “Dad, they changed your name,” and I’m like, “What do you mean?” She said, “Yeah, you’re ‘according to,’ because everything says ‘according to Joe Lunardi.’” [Laughs.] And I think, man, suppose I hit the send button at the wrong moment and I end up putting the Miami Dolphins in the bracket. So I try to take that pretty seriously because so many people are relying 24/7 on the information, particularly as it gets closer. Like, now that it’s March, people want an update every time I exhale. And I get it: we created this as a network, and, I guess, me as the provider of the information, and gone are the old days of doing one bracket on Sunday night and having it have a shelf life for a week. People don’t want to wait six days for an update—they don’t want to wait six minutes. I’ve had to adjust to that, and it’s probably made me less accurate because I’m now more in the content business than in the forecasting business.

The most visible part is when I show up at halftime and say, “If team X loses this game, they’re out.” And that’s a good way to never get invited to that state again, particularly if it’s a legendary one, like North Carolina right now. I suspect the next time I drive to Florida I’m going to have to take a big route around North Carolina, because I’ve read their obituary on TV a bunch of times in the last two weeks, which proves to me that they’ll probably sneak in and make a deep run.

Is North Carolina the fan base that has come after you the hardest over the years?

Not necessarily after me, but there’s now 363 schools in Division I, and, in terms of fanaticism, they’re all playing for second, because no one comes close to Kentucky. But I’ve probably had the most love-hate relationship with Syracuse because they’ve so frequently been right on the bubble. They love to hate me. And conveniently, or inconveniently, twice I had them out and they were the team I missed, and once I had them in and they were the team I missed. So, in a seven or eight-year period, they were my one three different times.

What’s the wildest bracket-related encounter or call that you’ve had?

Going back to the earlier years, I was still an administrator at St. Joe’s, I’m sitting in my office doing what most people with office jobs do on Friday afternoon, which is avoiding work to the greatest extent possible, and the secretary buzzes from downstairs and says, “The governor is on the line.” And I’m like “The governor of what?” I thought this was my buddies punking me. So I picked up and there’s a sweet voice on the other end, “Please hold for Governor so-and- so.” I don’t want to mention that it was a Midwestern state with four letters. But I think the governor and his boys were sitting around, looking for a reason not to work, and there’s my bracket up on the screen and they want to know why State U is not in the field, even though they beat the rival state that week. And they’re giving me the business, and I’m trying to be respectful, like I don’t talk to a lot of governors, and, finally at the end, I said, “Governor, do you mind me asking, is it a slow news day there? Aren’t there education or housing or public health problems you need to be working on?” So, yes, it was Iowa, not Ohio. But we laughed and I said, “I picture you guys sitting around drinking beer and eating pizza,” and he said, “Well, we don’t have pizza.”

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