The most common way to bet on March Madness is through pools. Pools, as the name suggests, are connections that pool multiple participants together. Everyone chips in money and the “pot” of money grows. In the end, only one or a few contestants take home money.


If you’re looking to join a March Madness betting pool, or better yet, create a pool from scratch, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve created a betting guide to March Madness pools packed with rules, tips, and ideas. There’s a lot to cover so let’s get right into it:

NCAA Tournament Bracket Pick Contest

This is the “mother” of all pools. So much so that anyone and everyone can join this pool — whether they watch NCAA basketball or not, hell, whether they bet money or not. It’s that popular of an activity at school or places of work.

We doubt we have to get too into the weeds about how this bracket contest works. You know the deal — pick the outcome of all 63 games in the NCAA Tournament. Every single game. Brackets become available on Selection Sunday and the first games are always four days later on Thursday so it’s a small window to join these pools.

Correct picks get contestant points. Rack up the most points and you win the whole pool. However, points earned per pick vary by the round. Obviously, later-stage predictions that are right are worth more. Typically, the point breakdown goes something like this:

  • Round one — 1 point
  • Round two — 2 points
  • Sweet 16 — 4 points
  • Elite 8 — 8 points
  • Final Four — 16 points
  • Title Game — 32 points

Some pools like getting cute with point allotment and change the rules. You’re certainly welcome to do that if you’re creating the pool but the above structure is how most of these contests are organized.

Another rule that can vary from pool to pool is the reward breakdown. Many have a winner-take-all format, meaning whoever gets first overall takes the entire pot of money. Though, other pools reward smaller prizes to second and third-place finishers. Here again, this rule is on you if you’re leading the pool.

The same goes for contest entry fees. We’re not here to tell you how much to charge people to join a pool. Going with a low price certainly helps get a bigger pool of players in the contest, which can drive up the pot size. On the flip side, charging a high cost upfront can “weed out” less serious contestants. There are pros and cons to each so it’s on you to decide what you prefer.

How To Join March Madness Pools

There’s an easy way to do this and a hard way. Let’s start with the easy one. Many pools are hosted on reputable sites like CBS Sports, ESPN, or Yahoo Sports. Anyone can fill out a bracket on these sites and the points auto-generate as the tourney goes on.

If you’re looking to join a contest, many will be available on these sites — some paid and some free. For leaders trying to organize a pool, it’s very easy to set up private pools on these same sites. From there, you can invite contestants via a unique link. The sites pretty much handles everything from here on out.

The hard way, but sometimes the more social way to do this, is by hand. You can print out the bracket and distribute it to friends and family in real life. The best way to do this is to set up a party or social gathering of some sort where everyone can fill it out on the spot and hang out. Collect the ballets and prize money (if it’s a paid pool) at the same event.


From here, you’ll manually tally the points. One by one, game by game, contestant by contestant. Obviously, that can be timely if the pool gets big, but it has to be done this way if websites aren’t part of the equation.

Alternative March Madness Pools

Brackets are just one way to get in on the fun that are March Madness pools. Alternate options exist and these are perfect ways to “spice things up.” Here are a few different March Madness pools worth considering:

Lottery Draw

This is a complete crapshoot, and that’s why it’s such a fun option. Here’s how this works: put all 68 qualifying teams into a pool. Slabs of paper into a hat is always a fun route but anything like that will work.

Have contestants pick out names at random. Of course, you can get 68 people and each person draws one team or you can have a smaller pool where contestants have multiple picks (e.g. 17 contestants with each person drawing four teams).

Whichever contestant picks out the national-winning team takes the pool. It’s as simple and random as that.

Survivor Pool

Survivor pools aren’t nearly as random. Whoever wins this pool will have to earn it. So the basis of survivor pools is to pick which teams advance.

During the NCAA Tournament, these pools can be done on a day-by-day basis or by the round. Contestants have to pick one team that survives that day/round and advances on. Pick wrong and you’re eliminated entirely. Pick right and you survive until the next day or round of picks.

The catch here is that a contestant can’t re-use a pick. So say they chose Duke once then they’re barred from selecting them the rest of the way.

This contest lasts until there’s only one player left standing. This person takes the entire pot prize usually. In the event of a tie, the prize can be shared.

Fantasy Draft

This one’s straightforward, especially if you’ve played fantasy football before. This pool tasks players with drafting teams in the tournament. All 68 teams are available to be chosen one by one.

It’s best to do this in snake order. So whoever gets the first overall pick in round one would get the last pick of the second and the first pick of the third. You do this with all players so no one contestant has an upper hand based on the draft order.

From here, assign points like you would for a regular bracket (e.g. 1 point for opening-round win and 32 points for the finals). Whoever drafted the team with the most points wins the pool.

Meet the author

Eric Uribe

Eric has been passionate about sports since he was 10 years old. He brings over 10 years of sports journalism experience to his expert coverage of sports betting. Hailing from the US, Eric leverages his diverse expertise covering sports at all levels – from high schoo...