March Madness and The Paradox of Control

Got your bracket filled out? How are you doing so far? Perhaps the most mesmerizing three weeks of sports is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Workplace productivity plummets on the days of the opening rounds and scores of thousands of brackets are monitored by fans everywhere.

The “survive and advance” single-elimination format facilitates peak performances from players and coaches and produces some of the greatest joys and deepest heartaches for the participants and their fans. Upset wins are the order of the day. Despite the tournament committee’s intense efforts, the outcomes are not as predictable as one might assume.


For instance- let’s talk upsets. Over the past 40 years:

  • The 12 seed upset the 5 seed 50 times. There have only been five years without a 12-5 upset!
  • 11 seed over the 6 seed 52 times
  • 10 seed over the 7seed 55 times

The #2 seed is most likely to get upset in the second round.

Since 2004 the #1 overall seed has only won the championship three times.

Only 51% of the #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four.

All four #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four only six times since 1985.

Granted, some teams have a better track record of getting to the Final Four more than others.

  • North Carolina – 20 Final Four appearances.
  • Kentucky and UCLA- 17
  • Duke-16
  • Kansas-15

Kentucky has made the most NCAA tournament appearances at 58…but not this year.

In Pursuit of the Predictable: The Quest to Control

We like unpredictability in our entertainment whether the drama of March Madness, the first trip on a theme park thrill ride, sudden scary combat scenes in a sci-fi movie, or the first run down a black diamond slope. It seems that in the rest of life we are often focused on trying to control as much as possible. The assumption is that control of my circumstances, resources, and relationships will facilitate my happiness and the good life.

We want to control our environment. How did you fare the last time your air conditioning went out? We want to control our time. How do we handle someone making us late? Amazon Prime taking two days! We can even buy into the notion that if we can be in control of our relationships, we will be happier.

In marriage, we know that many of the deepest joys come in sharing unanticipated experiences. If husbands and wives try to control one another, it only stifles the mystery, intimacy, and oneness of the relationship. The unexpected gives life its texture.

The Paradox of Control

A world totally under our control would be rigid, predictable, boring, and lacking in delight. German sociologist, Harmut Rosa maintains that “it is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we experience the world. Only then do we feel touched, moved, and alive. A world that is fully known, in which everything is planned and mastered would be a dead world.”

The paradox of control is that we think we want it over more and more of our lives and yet some of the richest joys are from the unanticipated events, the uncontrollable circumstances that come our way.

Peace In The Unpredictable

The Christian is most equipped to find rest in a world that can sometimes feel out of control. When facing inexplicable circumstances, we understand that there is a “who” answer to the “why” questions of life. God is still on the throne. He reigns and rules over all people, places, and events (Psalm 9:7-10). He will be faithful to His people come what may (Hebrews 13:5). We can rest in Him through both the unexpected joys and the surprise sorrows of this life (Isaiah 26:4, I Peter 5:8). There is more joy to be found here than in the never-ending quest for control.

Let the unanticipated wins and losses in your tournament bracket remind you of the paradox of control. We think more control will bring us peace and happiness and yet resting in God’s Providential care for us will free us to enjoy the highs and persevere in the lows of life. The circumstances of our lives may be out of our control, but they are never beyond His (Isaiah 55:8,9).

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26: 3,4

So, who to pick to cut down the nets to the tune of “One Shining Moment” this year? I’ve got the Zags over Baylor in the final game. Top two #1 seeds in the final? Nah…never happen.