This year, tens of millions of brackets were entered into major online NCAA tournament bracket games. Midway through Sunday’s second-round action, all but one of them had gotten at least one game wrong.
The exception: “center road,” a bracket entered into our Bracket Challenge Game, that has gone an astounding 48-for-48 so far, correctly predicting every single game through two rounds of the 2019 NCAA tournament. That’s worth repeating: the center road bracket has not missed a single game yet.
We’ve been tracking brackets for years, and before this tournament, the longest streak we’d ever seen was 39 games in a row. That was an incredible feat. This shattered it.
Monday, we tracked down the owner of the record-breaking “Center Road” bracket. His name is Gregg Nigl, and he’s a 40-year-old neuropsychologist in Columbus, Ohio.
When we called Nigl, he had no idea that his bracket was perfect, let alone that it was the best verifiable bracket filled out in the history of March Madness.
For more detail on how we got here, head over to our Perfect Bracket Tracker, where we show in real time how we got from tens of millions of brackets to one. We’ll be tracking “Center Road” the rest of the tournament there as well.
Here is an edited version of the conversation with Nigl:
Gregg Nigl: This seems kind of unreal. How do I know that this is, you know, real?
NCAA.com: Are you near a computer now?
(The lead story on NCAA.com when we called was about Gregg’s bracket)
NCAA: If you go to NCAA.com, you’ll see-
GN: I thought I remembered a news story about a kid…
NCAA: Yes, there was a news story from 2010 about a kid who picked a perfect Sweet 16, but that was on CBS’s bracket game, which allowed you to alter your picks after the tournament started, so there’s no way to verify that it was truly perfect.
GN: Okay. (Nigl has the call on speakerphone, and you can hear his wife in the background: “Is that your bracket”) Yeah, that’s my bracket. Okay, I’m on… yeah, I see it. (His wife is laughing in background)
NCAA: Yeah, congratulations!
POWER RANKINGS: The 16 teams in the Sweet 16, ranked by Andy Katz
GN: Yeah, this is my friend’s bracket [group] that he invited me to, and I almost didn’t fill it out because we were just doing it for fun and I’m in a couple other ones at work and stuff. Almost didn’t even fill it out.
NCAA: That’s amazing. Have you been filling out brackets for a while?
GN: Oh yeah, yeah. I do it every year. I’d probably say 10 to 15 years now.
Above: Gregg NIgl’s bracket
NCAA: How many brackets did you fill out this year?
NCAA: Do you have any strategy for it?
GN: I always watch bracketology, I listen to them, take into account what they say. And then, honestly, sometimes it’s which teams I like better. Some cities I like better, some teams I like better, some coaches I like better. I do look at the rankings too. It’s a combination of things. Don’t get me wrong, a bunch of this is luck. I know that. I’m not going to say I knew every matchup by any means.
NCAA: So, it’s hard to actually calculate the exact odds of a perfect bracket, but if every game were a coin flip, the odds would be about 1 in 9.2 quintillion.
GN: *Laughing* Wow.
NCAA: So, you’ve got 15 games to go for that. We’re all rooting for you.
GN: So wait, you’re saying I’m the first person to have ever done this? *Laughing*
NCAA: Correct. As far as we can tell, you’re the first person in the history of the tournament to have ever done this.
GN: I know, but it’s unbelievable.
NCAA: We track tens of millions of brackets every single year [we started in 2016]so you’re looking at hundreds of millions of brackets. No one has ever done this well.
GN: Wow. Wow.
NCAA: Have you been watching the games?
GN: Yeah, we’re on vacation right now. We’re driving from Ohio to Vermont, which is a pretty long road trip. We stopped in New York so I could watch my Michigan Wolverines play. I’ve been watching, I’ve been listening to the games on Sirius as we drive.
NCAA: Were you following your bracket at all?
GN: It’s funny, the one that I’m perfect in was the one that I wasn’t really checking, because it was just completely amongst a few friends. But yeah, I did four. And I almost didn’t fill that one out, because I was actually sick on Thursday, and I filled it out Thursday morning, right before the deadline, and I almost didn’t do it. I was laying in bed, I was sick, and I called into work. I almost went back to bed and didn’t fill it out, but I did it anyway because I felt bad because it was my friend’s [group].
Honestly, when I got this message, I thought it was a joke, or a prank or something, you know?
NCAA: I can completely understand that. How well do you usually do in your bracket groups?
GN: I do decently. I’ve won it a few times at work.
This is wild. I can’t even believe it.
NCAA: Yeah, it is pretty crazy. I don’t know if you were watching last night, but in the last game of the night, UC Irvine vs. Oregon, UC Irvine went on a 14-0 run to take the lead in the second half, and you had picked Oregon.
GN: I wasn’t watching. I went to bed, I was tired. We were driving so much. I had no idea that this was even happening.