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For the Love of Wooden, Enough Bracketology

A well-meaning friend forwarded me a story last week. Except it wasn’t a story. It was a graphic — of a bracket.

But not a college basketball bracket.

No, this was a Girl Scout cookie bracket, in which Thin Mints and Tagalongs were declared the top two seeds and Samoas had to settle for a No. 3, their bakers presumably crestfallen because their texture deserved at least a No. 2.

He thought it was catchy, clever.

I about lost my cookies.

As we head into the greatest four weeks of the American sporting calendar, we’d like to bring a looming public health crisis to your attention: Bracketology has infected our vocal cords, spread to our brain and killed off the cells once used for basic language skills. More important, it’s killing our love for filling out our brackets.

If we’re not careful to eradicate this epidemic, none of us will ever actually be pronounced dead. Along with Clair Bee, Phog Allen and John Wooden, we will be among the “First Four Out.”

I knew bracketology had gone too far recently when …

∎ My niece told me she had dropped me to the No. 4 line in her uncle bracket.

∎ The woman behind the counter at Cosi called the vegetable lentil soup “a definite No. 1 seed.”

∎ Fox News began referring to the next Republican primary as a “play-in” game.

∎ My doctor told me I was on the bubble … of needing surgery.

Look, for years, everyone has enjoyed forecasting the NCAA tournament once the bracket was announced. Then, 10 or so years ago, some sabermetrics-in-training smartypants got into the business of forecasting the bracket before it came out.

(These are the same analytic minds who tell you what someone else got you for your birthday. They keep RPI ratings for their breakfast cereals.)

But now things have gotten completely out of control. Realtors are saying expensive houses in borderline neighborhoods are “weak 5s — way overseeded.” Brokers are pushing undervalued stocks as “dangerous 12 seeds.”

Though misleading and patronizing, relationships used to end with the customary, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Now people are broken up with because they didn’t pass “the smell test.” When the aggrieved probe further, they’re told they need a stronger “program profile.”

The other day, I asked the boss the chance of this column being severely edited. “Stone-cold lock,” he said.

We’ve been kneecapped by tourney-speak, held hostage by a dialect that doesn’t go away after March. Or April. Or May.

I don’t think it’s going too far or being too corny to call this a bracket racket, and it’s high time someone brought up Joe Lunardi on charges of — I actually went to journalism school for this — bracketeering.

Before a nebbish PR guy from St. Joe’s nervously went on ESPN 12 years ago, he was, in fact, just Joe Lunardi. And when he coined the term “bracketology,” it was simply meant to convey the process used to predict how the NCAA selection committee would pluck teams for the at-large berths in the NCAA tournament, an empirical formula that made Gary Williams feel so much better about accepting an NIT bid.

A decade-plus later, he’s “Joey Brackets” and we’re all bananas.

We seed everything. Our sports movies. Our presidents and our fictional presidents. Our Bachelor contestants. Our children. For the love of God, our Girl Scout cookies!

Bracketology hasn’t just preyed on realtors, radio-show hosts or other pedestrian forms of life. Actual award-winning journalists have been stricken. One, a friend and former colleague, unfortunately edited a book several years ago with an oxymoron for a title: The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything.

Other than the preceding paragraphs, it’s easily the greatest waste of literary space known to man.

The good news is, we can do something to reverse this affliction. Whoever among your friends is fond of saying, “Wendy’s is my No. 1 seed and I got Arby’s at no higher than a 14,” stop these people.

Tell them they forgot to check with the selection committee of life, which deems them uncool, un-nutritious and completely unfit to fill out their own bracket.

If they persist and tell you to get over your elitist-linguistic self, tell them you have come up with your own bracket: the Most Unimaginative Losers You Know.

In this form of bracketology, they are not on the bubble or among the “Last Four In.” With the strongest program profile to date, they pass the smell test as a clear No. 1 seed, beating out the guy who came up with the Girl Scout cookie bracket. Just for putting Samoas at No. 3, he’s susceptible for a first-round upset.