Joe Lunardi lives a sports fan's dream scenario. Lunardi spends February and early March cooped up in a bunker specifically designed for nothing else but watching college basketball.
Forget about taking out the trash or doing the dishes. The only things Lunardi has to worry about are who will be seeded where and which bubble team's résumé is worthy of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid. I imagine Lunardi has spreadsheets upon spreadsheets laid out on the floor, meticulously comparing Quad 1 records like he's solving a murder mystery. It's become a science to the point where Lunardi's dedication has coined a new field of study: bracketology.
How did the March Madness guru become synonymous with bracketology? To find out, we need to go back to 1996.
How Joe Lunardi Invented "Bracketology"
You may have seen it written over the years that the term ?bracketologist? was coined in The Inquirer in 1996.
I went and looked up the clipping, and here it is: Feb. 25, 1996, in a piece by @jensenoffcampus.https://t.co/Oq34PqS43g pic.twitter.com/hdxshKETev
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@jtannenwald) March 12, 2022
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On February 25, 1996, the term bracketology was born. Then the head of communications and marketing for St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Lunardi was interviewed by his hometown paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, about Temple's chances to make the NCAA Tournament.
"I think they're in," said Lunardi, who calls himself a "bracketologist." "Of the 34 at-large teams. I had [Temple] 30th last week."
At the time, Lunardi was also moonlighting as the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Blue Ribbon's NCAA Tournament guide, which began in 1995, laid the foundation for what would become Lunardi's Bracketology we know today.
The days of simply playing the games and letting the cards fall where they may were over. A movement had begun, where predicting the NCAA Tournament field was as important as the action on the court. It was a new concept for anyone outside the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to dissect the analytical part of a team's résumé. Lunardi brought the concept of weighing a team's road record, quality of wins and most recent 10 games into the public eye. It was the same criteria the committee used, but unlike the committee, Lunardi's work told fans who had the best shot at making the field.
College basketball was nothing new to Lunardi, either. In addition to his role at St. Joe's, he wrote for The Philadelphia Bulletin and Delaware County Daily Times about Philly's Big 5 basketball teams (Villanova, Penn, St. Joseph's, Temple and La Salle). He's also the longtime color analyst for St. Joseph's hoops broadcasts and continues to work games along with his bracketology duties.
Joey Brackets didn't become Joey Brackets for being on the call, however. The same year he coined the term is the same year his bracketology column appeared on ESPN.com, and in 2002, he started making TV appearances on the network.
Soon enough, Lunardi was coming live from the bracketology lab aka "The Bracket Bunker."
Joe Lunardi's Bracket Bunker
A whole new Bracket Bunker!! pic.twitter.com/sUntvqKOyM
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 14, 2018
The tail end of the college basketball season and conference tournament time means it's time for Lunardi to move to his bracket bunker. What's the bracket bunker you ask? It's every college basketball fan's paradise. There's nothing but TVs on TVs with only college hoops playing.
Lunardi's bracket bunker is traditionally at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, where he'll constantly chime in during the network's college basketball coverage. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, Lunardi built an impromptu bunker at his home outside of Philadelphia. Lo and behold, an isolated bunker built underground made for a fantastic place to quarantine.
they just showed Joe Lunardi on ESPN and he was really better prepared for the pandemic than anybody. The Bracket Bunker (built 75 feet underground) is fully stocked with 3 years of bottled water and MREs and only Lunardi is allowed to enter pic.twitter.com/R4SeNcOgE9
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) March 7, 2021
Lundari's prediction for the NCAA Tournament field went from a weekly newsletter to receiving minute-by-minute updates. He's welcomed the fast-paced change with open arms, as well as his place in the college basketball world.
"I'm conscious of the fact that while this is still only basketball, a lot of people's livelihoods revolve around jobs in this industry," Lunardi told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "These people can't talk to the actual [selection] committee. And by accident of circumstance, I've become the proxy for that."
It's with good reason. Lunardi has accurately predicted over 95% of the teams to make the tourney for the past 16 years.
Since joining the sports network full-time three years ago, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi spends his entire year deducing who will make the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. How will Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Kansas, Gonzaga, Arkansas and Kentucky be seeded? How many ACC teams will make it? Who are the first four teams out? The last four in? Should Texas A&M have made the 68-team field this year?
Now that Selection Sunday is behind us, Lunardi can take a breather. It's doubtful he will though. The 2023 NCAA Tournament is only a year away, and it's never too early to start evaluating potential résumés.
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