How To Create A March Madness Family Bracket Challenge

It’s March and that means March Madness will be upon us shortly. Having spent a portion of my childhood in Indiana, basketball is in my blood.  Basketball is huge in our household. Our family especially loves March Madness and the NCAA basketball tournament.


One of our family’s favorite activities is our March Madness Family Bracket Challenge. It has been going strong for about 7 years. Our bracket challenge has grown and evolved over the years, but always provides excitement (and sometimes temper tantrums) for everyone involved.
Want to set up a bracket challenge for your family? Check out how ours works and then figure out what works for your family.


NCAA March Madness 2021

Due to the pandemic, this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is going to look very different than it has in the past. Last year there was no tournament, so we’ll take it any way we can get it.

The NCAA announced that the entire March Madness tournament would be held in Indiana in 2021 with most of the games taking place in Indianapolis. This is reminiscent of the “Bubble” concept used by the NBA in 2020.

Here’s is the schedule for the NCAA March Madness Tournament for 2021


  • Selection Sunday: 6 p.m. ET March 14
  • First Four: 4 p.m. ET start on Thursday, March 18
  • First Round: 12 p.m. ET start on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20
  • Second Round: 12 p.m. ET start on Sunday, March 21, and Monday, March 22
  • Sweet 16: 2 p.m. ET start on Saturday, March 27, and 1 p.m. start on Sunday, March 28
  • Elite Eight: 7 p.m. ET start on Monday, March 29, and 6 p.m. start on Tuesday, March 30
  • Final Four: 5 p.m. ET start on Saturday, April 3
  • NCAA Championship Game: 9 p.m. ET Monday, April 5


The games are being broadcast on TV through several networks including CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. Because of the unique format this year, the NCAA has modified some of its bracketing principles which you can read about here.


March Madness Family Setup and Rules

Our bracket challenge rules are one of the main components that have changed over the years. It’s still a work in progress. We started with progressively weighted rounds that double in point value for each round, which is the most common setup for online brackets. So correct picks in the first round are worth 1 point, 2 points in the second round, and continue to double until you get to the final game. You also need to pick the score of the championship game to use as a tiebreaker.


Another way of setting your bracket up is to put more emphasis on the total number of games picked correctly as opposed to the value increasing each round. This works better with younger kids as I’ve found they tend to lose interest if they aren’t at least in the running towards the end of the tournament.


When we first started out, we would actually just pick one round at a time to allow everyone to pick more games after winners of the previous round were decided. This worked great but is time-consuming to keep up with winners and losers and getting everyone to fill out the next round’s games in a timely manner. Winners play twice in a weekend so there are time restrictions with setting your bracket up this way. Again, this is a better setup for families with younger kids. They don’t seem to take losing very well. I wonder where they get that?!


Tracking your March Madness Family Brackets

At the beginning of our family bracket challenge, I printed out brackets for every family member. With the format of picking one round at a time, this required reprinting brackets after a round ends so the proper teams are filled in. Not fun. Now, we just use an online bracket and set everyone up in a group pool. There are several sports websites with online brackets you can manage for groups, like:


Most of the March Madness websites give you an option to print out brackets or use fill them out online or on your phone. You can also print out your own printable march madness brackets.


March Madness Bracket Prizes

We use our family bracket challenge as a way to do something together as a family so our prizes have always reflected that. Our bracket winners always get to pick some portion of a local family adventure. For example, this year, the top 3 finishers in our bracket will get to do the following:


  • 1st place chooses a local activity for our family to do together (examples include bowling, mini-golf, going to the movies, trampoline park, zoo, museum, etc.)
  • 2nd place chooses a local restaurant that we will visit as a family.
  • 3rd place chooses a local spot for dessert to wrap up our family adventure.


When our kids were younger, we had to find ways for everyone to win so we would do 2 separate family adventure days, which provided choices for all 6 of us. Doing your bracket this way has the potential of being very expensive. As our kids have grown older, I am OK with some of them getting upset because they didn’t win. I was probably being too nice to our kids when they were younger. We will never go back to 6 winners. There are no participation trophies.


The Real Reward

My wife and I created the bracket challenge shortly after we adopted our daughters as one way to bring us all together as a family for some fun. Not only does the challenge end with family time together exploring new places locally, but we also spent time together watching games and highlights, discussing our picks, trash-talking each other, and sharing what prize we would choose if we win.

Our family bracket challenge is about more than just basketball and, as much as I love basketball, I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Do you participate in the March Madness brackets? If so, what is your strategy for picking teams? Let us know in the comments below!


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How To Create A March Madness Family Bracket Challenge

1 thought on “How To Create A March Madness Family Bracket Challenge”

  1. I love this. This has always been something we’ve done together as a family as well. When our kids were younger (or for our dog), we would either pick all top seeds or pick based on species of mascot, alphabetical, etc. Those made for some fun (and surprising) results. For those of us that are older, we’ll usually pick our own, based on a minimal research.

    Our winner has sometimes picked a victory meal or dessert or things like that. We’ve typically used an online bracket contest to calculate everything just because it made it easier.

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