“Rat Bracket” provides a-maze-ing take on NCAA tourney

There they were, dwarf rats, whiskers twitching as they scampered over soft towels and padding in four bins in a Bristol, Conn. warehouse Monday, unknowingly loosening up for the most important exercise of their lives.


The imports from the United Rat Club in King of Prussia, Penn., including rats named Odd Eye, Gandalf, Lucy and Teeth, would face a bracket challenge hours before Albany or Cal Poly took the court in the 2014 NCAA men’s tournament. The dwarf rats, each representing a team, would be charged with advancing through a bracket-themed maze and their efforts were just another source of prediction information for fans to consider while filling out brackets and watching the Tournament.

“We were bouncing some ideas around about the unpredictability and craziness of a bracket, and how it also looks like a maze,” said ESPN marketing manager Won Kim. “Then we landed on a ‘Eureka!’ moment of, ‘How about small animals in a bracket maze.’ We went with dwarf rats, and the name Rat Bracket was born.”

The maze was created by Brooklyn-based Deary Construction, and featured 16 GoPro Cameras customized for holes and locations allowing rat-level views of each “team” navigating the bracket-maze. There was also the GoPro Contour camera, which followed each dwarf rat, complemented by an overhead camera (the Goodyear blimp was apparently booked elsewhere).

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“The people at (ESPN’s Bristol neighbor) RGD Technologies were extremely accommodating — they moved thousands of pounds of equipment in order to make space available at their facility for our extensive lighting and gear,” producer Kris Schwartz said. “They allowed us to use their scissor lift which was beneficial for one of our cameras to get into positions we wouldn’t have been able to get to otherwise.”

While holding one of the day’s participants, Brittany Golas, president of the United Rat Club, said, “I was little bit confused when ESPN first asked, but after it was explained to me, it sounded interesting.”

The action, voiced over by SportsCenter’s Jay Harris, included Dayton literally rolling over against Syracuse, then the Orange, after a slow start (aka going backwards), racing by Kansas, and a physical Florida rat rep knocking UCLA’s jersey off (a Flagrant 1 foul was called).

But perhaps the biggest upset came when the rat named Hooded Gray (representing Harvard) literally nosed-out Gandalf (Michigan State), putting the favorite of many ESPN prognosticators (MSU) – not to mention President Obama’s – in a rat race that won’t be determined until April 7.

The “Rat Bracket” feature is currently running on SportsCenter and scheduled college basketball programming; it can also be found on ESPN’s YouTube page.

Video produced by David Pierpont

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