Are basketball brackets worth the madness?

Derek Hamby

Selection Sunday is the day the teams competing in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament are revealed. As the coverage starts, some teams are relaxed while others are anxiously awaiting the announcement. 

As soon as all 68 teams have been selected, players celebrate and cry while millions of people across the country begin filling out their tournament bracket

The all-consuming conversation on TV and around the workplace becomes who will be this year’s Cinderella story? Will Butler emerge again? Can Gonzaga make its first Final Four? Will a 16-seed finally beat a 1-seed? 

It’s called March Madness because for one month everyone seems to be mad about basketball. And for some, at least, the madness is driven by both a love of the sport and a vested interest in seeing who wins. 

We All Love Picking a Winner

From legal betting to illegal office pools, the NCAA tournament draws in people who have not watched a basketball game all year. According to the American Gaming Association, Americans gambled $9.2 billion on March Madness in 2015. 

Any game we play for money is gambling, whether it’s a round of poker or a baby pool. But for those of us who love Jesus and basketball, this time of year, more than many others, begs the question: Is gambling a sin? 

You will not find the word “gambling” in the Bible, but there are three questions we can ask to help us determine if putting money on a bracket is a wise thing to do. 

1. Why am I gambling?

For some, the thrill of the competition is what makes gambling fun. A friendly wager can provide a reason to follow the game or the adrenaline of competition. But for others, the desire to gamble is rooted in a love of money.  

If we’re gambling to get out of debt or to get rich, we’re putting our hope in the wrong place. More money will not fix our problems or fulfill us. Only a relationship with Jesus can fulfill the longing in our hearts and bring us peace. 

More money will not fix our problems or fulfill us. Only a relationship with Jesus can fulfill the longing in our hearts and bring us peace.

Hebrews 13:5 warns against putting our hope in money, saying, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’”

2. Can I stop gambling?

This question will help you determine if friendly competition has become a compulsion. If you do not feel you can stop, or if you can’t have fun without a wager, your gambling has become an addiction. 

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

If you’ve ever known an addict, you know how enslaving addiction can be. Jesus gave us the freedom to do anything, but He does not want us to be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). 

3. Do others know I am gambling?

If you can’t do what you’re doing out in the open, that’s usually a good sign you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. 

The biggest reason I don’t gamble regularly is because my wife is not OK with it. If I were to start gambling on March Madness or college football, I would have to do it in secret. And, there is not a prize out there worth losing my marriage over.

Whatever we do in secret will come out. In Luke 8:17, Jesus tells us, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”  

God knows the secrets and desires of our hearts (Psalm 44:21). And eventually, others will, too. 

Bringing Sanity to the Madness

Every year, my wife and I take part in our offices’ March Madness pools. Playing along is a  decision we make together, and we are typically out $10 at the end. 

But our small wager on March Madness strikes up conversations every night as we follow what’s happening in the tournament. My wife knows I look forward to March Madness each year, and her interest has grown through supporting me.

The success of winning a bet is thrilling, but we both know the thrill will not last. The reward for following Jesus, however, will last into eternity. 1 Corinthians 9:25 says, “Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we [Christians] do it get a crown that will last forever.” 

No matter how much we research teams and seek that magic bracket buster, winning the office pool will not bring the same reward as a life lived for Christ. 

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