You know that much-ballyhooed billion-dollar challenge offered by Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett? It's a brilliant marketing gimmick, of course, but does anyone stand a reasonable chance of getting the money? I mean, somebody wins those Powerball jackpots even though the odds are astronomical. The perfect bracket winner could be you, right?
No, no it could not.
Statistically speaking, the odds of getting a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.
That's 9.2 quintillion is 9.2 billion written 1 billion times. If everyone on earth filled out 100 brackets, it would theoretically take 13 million years to get a perfect bracket. If all the world's population filled out just one bracket, it could take 1.3 billion years. That means dinosaurs that lived 65 million years ago could have been filling out brackets and we'd still just be 5% of the way to perfection.
Getting back to the lottery comparison, you have better odds winning the Powerball jackpot (1 in 125 million) three times in a row than you do in getting a perfect bracket. Try and wrap your head around that.
Or forget math. Let's think abstractly. Basically, it's more likely a freshman teen wolf wins Final Four MVP this year than somebody getting a perfect bracket.
Of course, this isn't the whole story. The perfect bracket odds are based on straight numbers — it's predicts 63 coin flips for each of the 63 games of the tournament. (The 9.2 quintillion number is 2 to the 63rd power.) But we all know picking NCAA tournament games isn't a 50/50 proposition. No. 1 seeds never lose in the first round. Top four seeds almost always win the title. Duke and Michigan State historically perform better than most similarly-seeded teams.
Even so, allowing for some knowledge of college basketball and taking it account the norms of the NCAA tournament, the odds of a perfect bracket are still about 1 in 128 billion, according to DePaul math professor Jay Bergen. Heck, only one person on ESPN.com's challenge has picked a perfect opening round in the past seven years. Think about that: Only one person has gotten halfway to perfection in seven years.
There are far, far, far better odds Warren Buffett drops a hot verse on Jay Z's next single than in the 83-year-old cutting a check in three weeks.
If we accept Bergen's numbers and estimate that 25 million brackets are filled out online every year, we'd see a perfect one every 5,000 years.
So, the real news here isn't that Quicken Loans and Buffett are offering $1 billion, but that they could be offering $10 trillion and it still wouldn't matter.