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Local businesses becoming schools of bracketology as March Madness begins

Zach Vance • Updated Mar 14, 2017 at 10:42 PM

Madness has encompassed much of Northeast Tennessee this March.

As the hometown East Tennessee State University Buccaneers prepare to clash with the Florida Gators Thursday, many local establishments are using the growing popularity of bracket pools to engage with customers.

At Wild Wing Cafe, general manager Louie Trivette said his restaurant is giving away free wings for a year to the winner of its tournament challenge.

“The guest can fill out one bracket per guest. The person who has the most possible points at the end out of 137 (points) gets free wings for a year. They’ll get a coupon, one for every week,” Trivette said.

Trivette said each first round game is worth 1 point, the second round is worth 2 points and the third round is worth 3 points. Each correct Elite Eight team will earn 5 points, while the Final Four is worth 8 points for each correct selection. Selecting each championship team will earn 13 points.

While Wild Wing Cafe’s bracket has to be filled out in person, Tipton Street Pub is offering its customers a bracket challenge online through CBSSports.com. The top three winners will earn gift certificates to Tipton Street, with the first-place prize worth $150. Visit www.tiptonstreetpub.mayhem.cbssports.com to register.

For the seventh year in a row, Johnson City-based insurance company Veritas Risk Management is hosting a free bracket challenge through CBSSports.com. According to its Facebook page, Veritas will give away $50 in cash to the winner.

Most promotional brackets must be completed by the first game’s tip-off on Thursday.

ETSU seems to be a bracket favorite among many local fans, despite Las Vegas bookies giving the Buccaneers long odds to actually bring home the trophy.

“I put (ETSU) winning it just because. There are plenty of upsets in March Madness,” said student Storm Bennett as he watched the Bucs leave campus for Orlando on Thursday. “I’ve done (a bracket) a few times before, but I did do it this time specifically because ETSU.”

ETSU fan J.P. Epps was a bit more conservative, picking the Bucs to make it to the third round after defeating UNC-Wilmington.

Florida alumni Alan Levine, CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance, faced a major dilemma picking between the Bucs and his alma mater, the University of Florida, in the first-round matchup.

“I’m really excited about ETSU making the tournament. When I saw ETSU revealed on the screen playing Florida, my first reaction was ‘Oh, please no! Like ... why Florida, of all teams?’” said Levine, who previously served on the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees and is a Bull Gator member of the Gator Boosters.

“Whatever happens Thursday, I think either team will have to get by either UNC Wilmington or Virginia to get to play Villanova, and Villanova is tough. (ETSU and Florida’s) bracket is really hard, with Villanova and Duke.”

Levine said he ultimately chose Duke to defeat the University of North Carolina for the championship.

The likelihood of actually selecting a perfect bracket?

Depending on where you look, it can range from 1 in 9.2 quintillion to 1 in 2 billion, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Consider this: Billionaire Warren Buffett is offering $1 million a year for life to any Berkshire Hathaway employee who correctly picks the entire Sweet 16. He’s also offering $1 million to any employee who perfectly picks the entire first round.

While plenty of bracket pools are just for fun with nothing at stake, there are plenty of others that include big payouts.

This year, the American Gaming Association is estimating that Americans will wager $10.4 billion on March Madness brackets, a 13 percent increase over last year’s estimate.

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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