If people at work in the United States have seemed a bit distracted over the past three weeks, especially sports fans, it might just be a symptom of "March Madness," the nickname for the NCAA men's college basketball championship tournament. Roughly, one out of 10 Americans will take part in office pools based on the annual event.
FAN1: "Ah, just an office pool, low stakes, $20 dollar entry…"
FAN2: "…online with my friends, $10, just for fun, which is a good thing based on my picks."
All across the country die-hard college basketball fans and novices alike have paid their money to join NCAA tournament office pools, hoping to correctly predict this year's winners. After a play-in game, 64 teams started the single elimination tournament and are being whittled down until one that will be crowned the 2005 national champion April fourth in Saint Louis.
Fans fill out brackets to pick the winners in four 16-team regions of the country. Each correct prediction is worth a set number of points, with the value of correct picks typically going up in each successive round.
After the first round, 32 teams are left. As play continues, the teams are reduced to the so-called "Sweet-16," "Elite Eight" and "Final-Four." Those four teams meet in the semifinals in Saint Louis for the right to advance to the championship game.
Participants make their picks in a number of ways. There are those who always root for their alma maters or home teams. Some rely on mountains of research and statistics, spending hours agonizing over the match-ups, while others have their own systems.
FAN1: "Just by watching the season and figuring out based on rankings and what I would speculate as far as coaching and momentum…"
FAN2: "Definitely not an expert, I go by my gut when it comes time to make the picks…"
FAN3: "…past performances actually. If a team let me down in the past, I hold it against them and I don't pick them anymore."
Then there are those who take about two minutes to fill in their brackets, making their choices based on their preferences of team mascots and nicknames, uniform colors, or by simply guessing. For some reason these people, who happily admit to knowing nothing about college basketball, often end up winning the pool, much to the chagrin of those who know more about the game.
FAN1: "My champion has gone home already, I bet on Oklahoma State so I like Illinois to win it all, I think, now…”
FAN2: "I'm a U-Conn student and I support my school…”
FAN3: "I was a Kansas guy and Kansas, you know, [lost in the] first round."
Although the legality of office betting pools varies from state to state, the FBI estimates over $2.4 billion dollars is gambled on the tournament. Workers generally spend about 90 minutes a week on the pool, and studies say that reduces productivity. Estimates predict U.S. business will lose anywhere from $400 million to $1.5 billion during the tournament.
Even so, many office managers turn a blind eye to office pools. Others believe pools are actually good for morale because they help workers bond and become more productive. At least after the tournament is over.