Leadership

Presidents George H.W. Bush and Obama shared their March Madness brackets—here's who's ahead

U.S. President Barack Obama tosses up a basketball given to him by coach Geno Auriemma (L) while honoring the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Champion University of Connecticut Huskies.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama tosses up a basketball given to him by coach Geno Auriemma (L) while honoring the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Champion University of Connecticut Huskies.

After a series of upsets, in which several lower-ranked teams have won against the odds, there are no perfect brackets left for the men's Division I NCAA tournament. Even Former Presidents Barack Obama and George H. W. Bush, who made theirs public earlier in March, have had their brackets busted.

Heading into the Sweet 16, however, the 41st President is outperforming the 44th, with ten out of his 16 teams still standing. For his top pick, Bush chose Texas A&M, which is home to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and that team is still in the running.

By contrast, Obama correctly picked only eight out of 16 teams, and both of his chosen finalists (No. 1 UVA and No. 3 Michigan State) have been knocked out.

On March 14, Obama shared his brackets for both the men's and women's tournaments, writing on Twitter: "Just because I have more time to watch games doesn't mean my picks will be better, but here are my brackets this year."

The same day, Bush tweeted out his own bracket picks, saying he was "respectfully differing" with Obama.

Obama welcomed the friendly competition and praised Bush for his "loyalty to the home team."

He also congratulated Loyola Chicago for its win over his second-round pick Tennessee.

In his first year as President, Obama shared his ESPN March Madness bracket picks for the men's and women's tournaments, kicking off a new annual tradition. Still, Obama admitted his job wouldn't allow him to watch some of the longer games, such as Syracuse's six-overtime win against Connecticut in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

"I can't be staying up until 2:00 in the morning," Obama told ESPN at the time. "I've got work to do."

Franklyn Calle, associate editor of basketball trade publication SLAM Magazine, tells CNBC Make It that, although few fans expected Texas A&M, a No. 7 team, to perform as well as they did against UNC, a No. 2 team, Bush's support may have helped.

"Not many people were actually expecting Texas A&M to go anywhere, but then all of a sudden the former President publicly says that you're going to pull this win off can either add a little bit of pressure or actually boost their confidence," Calle says.

On the flip side, Obama had Virginia down to win, which Calle says may have put psychological pressure on the team. This is the first time a No. 16 team (UMBC) beat a No. 1 team (Virginia), he points out.

Still, having the former presidents share their brackets is further proof of the sport's importance in the U.S., according to Calle.

"At this point, March Madness has become a cultural moment that transcends beyond just the average college sports fan," Calle says. "When you look at the statics of how productivity in the workplace goes down significantly during the first week of the tournament, it shows it goes beyond the traditional sports circles."

Calle points out that Bush and Obama's banter allows people to see them not just as former presidents but as regular people. "It humanizes them a little bit. That first Sunday of March Madness comes through and they're filling out brackets just like the rest of America is," Calle says.

As for President Donald Trump, he turned down an invitation from ESPN in 2017 to fill out a bracket on air, thus ending the White House bracket tradition that began with Obama. Last year, an ESPN spokesman said in a statement: "We expressed our interest to the White House in continuing the presidential bracket. They have respectfully declined."

It is unclear if Trump is following the tournaments this year.

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