The No. 1 seed is Fork Hands

Across the land, people are "filling out their brackets" like they always did before Covid. They're trying to name the winners of all the college basketball games in the upcoming 68-team national men's tournament. 

Call me a grump, but I gave up on the bracket thing a while ago, after 40-some years of getting nowhere with it. And anyway, the real tension in this year's festivities is about which teams are going to get by without being knocked out by positive Covid tests.

In response to the pandemic, the NCAA has adopted a "bubble" format, in which all the men's games are to be played in Indianapolis, and the women's in San Antonio. They say players will be tested daily, and if a team can't go because of too many positive test results, they're out of the tournament. If the problem surfaces now, a replacement team will take the lost team's place, but once the games get going on Friday, the positive team will forfeit its next game to its lucky opponent.

That's a wild card that gamblers on this event have never had to deal with before. And wagering aside, it may well put a big asterisk on some of this year's victories.

You wonder whether the league is really going to enforce its Covid rules. Already there's a troubling report that the arrival quarantine protocols are being loosened beyond recognition.

The association’s published health guidelines, which also apply to the women’s tournament scheduled to begin next week in Texas, call for teams to “remain in quarantine until two consecutive tests on separate days are confirmed negative, at which time team practice may begin.” But the N.C.A.A.’s unannounced change offers teams arriving late at night a quicker way out: negative results on virus tests separated by at least 12 hours.

The shift, acknowledged only after inquiries from The New York Times, allowed Iona, the No. 15 seed in the East region, to practice less than 24 hours after its chartered plane landed in Indianapolis late in the night it clinched its automatic bid.

It's money talking, of course. But the virus will have the last word. You hope that disaster isn't going to strike at March Madness, but the hoops folks are determined to engage in some flirtation with danger.