Obama’s Bracket

President Obama shouldn't be criticized for picking his NCAA tourney brackets during wartime. But he shouldn't get much credit, either.

Andrew Sullivan passes along a reader note analyzing President Obama’s much-talked-about NCAA tourney bracket:

Don’t know if you all have been keeping up, but Obama’s NCAA tourney bracket is in the top 0.3% of all 5 million ESPN bracket pickers. It’s a revealing bracket.


While going with the favorites in most cases, he picked a few underdogs in the first (now called “second”) round – notably Gonzaga, Richmond and Florida State – who pulled upsets. I thought it encapsulated his overall personality well – clear-headed and realistic about the tendency of events to play out based on historical precedent (e.g. according to the seedings), but willing to buck conventional wisdom when his own judgement argues against it. At the risk of extending the metaphor too far, you get the sense that someone like John McCain’s bracket would be filled with all upsets, and that Mitch McConnell would choose all the higher seeds. Most people aren’t really able to switch back and forth between different mindsets as facilely as Obama. Either the underdog is always going to pull an upset, or the favorite is always going to come out on top.

When I defended Obama from criticism that he shouldn’t have been filling out his brackets when the world was exploding with crisis, one of the points I had in the back of my mind was the strong likelihood that Obama’s brother-in-law advised him on which teams to pick.  If so, that rather mitigates the notion that Obama is some sort of basketball savant, too.

For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Obama’s brother-in-law is Craig Robinson, head men’s basketball coach at Oregon State. Being familiar with the teams in the tournament is, therefore, his vocation. And the two are quite close. The odds that the president tapped this expertise before going on national television to pick his brackets approach 100 percent.

To be sure, Obama is a basketball enthusiast. He played in high school and is reportedly still quite skilled at the game for a man in his late 40s–let alone one whose day job is leader of the free world. But anyone who thinks he has time to watch more than the highlights of college basketball action is kidding themselves.


FILED UNDER: Sports, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Metz says:

    I found his bracket revealing for its conservative/risk minimizing approach of picking almost all favorites. That seems reflected in his approach to policy.

  2. DC Loser says:

    What next? His choice of burgers at Ray’s Hell Burger?

  3. Tano says:

    What next? His choice of burgers at Ray’s Hell Burger?

    Yeah, I imagine the rightwingers would try to raise some kind of scandal no matter what kind of burger he had. Kinda like the great Dijongate episode…

  4. Dave says:

    I’ll preface this by saying I don’t buy this argument, but the reader’s point wasn’t really that Obama is a basketball savant, but rather that his bracket selection style mirrored his approach to public policy and showed similar effectiveness. Consulting an expert he trusts (his bro in law) and coming to wise decisions based off that expert’s advice fits right into that framework.

  5. Tano says:

    Consulting an expert he trusts (his bro in law) and coming to wise decisions based off that expert’s advice

    Funny how simple the formula is to out-perform 99.7% of the population….

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Dave: Yes, I agree.

    @Tano: Having no more than PTI-level knowledge of the game (that is, I haven’t watched a single game this year and the only highlights I get are on ESPN’s PTI show) I’ve got a 92nd percentile bracket. One or two first round matchups makes a HUGE difference.

    Like Obama, I went chalk, picking all #1s in the Final Four. Like Obama, I picked 4 or 5 first round upsets. He got one more of them right.

  7. George Baker says:

    OK – I wish his “bracket” for managing the country even made it to the 50th percentile. If he’s an idiot-savant, I’d vote for the policy savant/basketball idiot rather than a basketball savant/policy idiot. BTW – his bracket’s starting to sag now.

  8. John Dundee says:

    Um…His pick to win overall was Kansas…who just lost.
    He picked every #1 ranking to go to the final four.
    None did.
    How is it he did well?