Columnist makes March Madness picks by choosing teams based on mascots, hairstyles - and her dog

"Sportophobe" columnist Tammy Swift had no idea how to pick teams for the 2023 NCAA basketball bracket -- so she relied on "the Diane Chambers" effect instead.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

As God is my witness, I thought March Madness was a white sale.

I did. For decades, whenever I saw ads trumpeting JC Penney linen sales, I had no idea they were tied to the iconic NCAA basketball tournament.

It’s hard to understand why March Madness somehow became linked to retail sales. Maybe back then, they figured if the menfolk were going to spend most of the mortgage on sports betting, the ladies of the house would be justified in buying decent towels for the guest bath and some new percale sheets.

So imagine my embarrassment when I learned March Madness was not only an excuse to stock up on pillow cases, but actually one of the biggest sporting events across our great nation.

How did I get to reach adulthood with this massive gap in my knowledge? Was it like the time in fourth grade when I disgraced the family by asking my farmer dad how he plants stubble? Or when I realized, during a classroom-wide recitation of new vocabulary words, I pronounced “society” like “sosha-tee” because I thought it should be pronounced like “social?”


Of course, news organizations live for these golden opportunities. When they select employees to be “VIP pickers” for the NCAA tourney, they don’t simply ask sportswriters or people who know anything about AP ranking, at-large bids or bracket busters.

Instead, it’s far more amusing to liven up the proceedings with another kind of VIP — the Very Ignorant Person. We perennial sportophobes — we lifetime disciples of benchwarming in the world of athletics — become the human equivalent of those monkeys who pick brackets, and there are fewer banana peels to clean up afterward.

But I’m a perennial people pleaser, so am trying my little-engine-hardest to make tourney picks. I’ve eyed the Byzantine snarl of teams in search for hints that some might be champions.

Sure, I could attempt to sift through the 411 million websites, which is the actual number of responses that pop up upon Googling “Who should I pick for March Madness 2023?” I could talk to one of the sportswriters on staff or find someone else who religiously monitors college hoops.

But that doesn’t seem on-brand for Tam. Why use careful thought and logical assessment when I can make these decisions based on who has the funkiest mascots or the grooviest hair?

So I tried something akin to the “Diane Chambers effect” — the approach used by the “Cheers” waitress who won the bar’s football pool by choosing factors like a city’s uniform colors or symphony orchestras.

Seriously, how can I NOT pick a school called Gonzaga, which I think was the same name of Ted Nugent’s first album? Or how can one ignore the chivalrous Furman Paladins, whose mascot represents one of the “12 legendary knights of Charlemagne’s court” yet wears a squishy suit of “armor” which wouldn’t ward off the stab of a spork?

I chose Montana State because their bobcat is impressively buff — and is a nice twist on the overused “Wildcat” genre.


I also tended to favor schools with live bulldogs because bulldogs are simultaneously blobbular, wrinktacular and charming.

Likewise, I tried to rule out schools with terrifying mascots, like the Iona Gael, who looks like the lovechild of Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee and an enraged Abe Lincoln. Or the Arizona Sun Devils, whose blank-eyed demon looks a bit too anti-Christ for my liking.

Others were picked for equally random reasons. I chose Colgate because dental health is important. However, Colgate had to fall to Penn State because I felt sorry for their mascot— the Nittany lion —which looked like it had been sewn by a 1972 home economics class and then pulled out of mothballs especially for the big tournament.

I briefly considered selecting UCLA, mainly because senior guard Tyger Campbell has a gloriously Samson-esque mane of hair, which he has refused to cut since fifth grade. Ultimately, however, I had to go with UNC-Asheville because of the aforementioned “live bulldog effect.” In this case, the mascot i s a chonkular boo named Pumpkin , who looks like such a very, very good boy.

I zeroed in on Northern Kentucky because their mascot, Victor E. Viking, looks exactly like my ex-brother-in-law, Tom. I checked Howard University because they are an underdog team whose last March Madness tourney was in 1992. (Also, I had an Uncle Howard.)

In some cases, I simply picked someone at random because sweating over a hot bracket can be exhausting.

Ultimately, though, I left the most important part of the process up to the real genius in the family: my dog, Copper.

After whittling down to the Final Four, I placed identical treats in identical cups, each bearing the names of the top four contenders, then left it up to old Copper Top to sniff out a winner.


According to Copper’s scientific noseology, Furman will clinch the championship over Howard.

Then again, Copper—a furry man himself—may have had a natural bias toward a fellow Furman.


Tammy Swift portrait for Brightspot module

Hi, I'm Tammy Swift, a loooong-time columnist for The Forum. Over the years, I've written about everything from growing up on the farm and life as a single woman to marriage, divorce and the "joys" of menopause. I'm also slightly obsessed with my dog. Check out my latest columns below. Reach me at

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Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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