March 18, 2011
March Madness a sure bet
Many take a break from the workday to follow their team
March Madness hit the Cortland region this week, as it has the rest of the nation, but people talk cautiously about their NCAA men’s basketball bracket predictions — when they talk at all.
Office pools and other venues where people try to forecast winners in the NCAA tournament began Thursday.
Some began Tuesday, with the play-in games introduced this year, which expanded the number of teams in the tournament from 64 to 68.
Participants pick the overall winner by filling out brackets on sheets of paper game by game until the championship slot. Each round in the tournament brings a new lineup of teams to compare against predictions.
Millions of Americans follow the tournament as a social activity, something to share with both basketball nuts and people who rarely pay attention to the sport.
A Chicago business consulting firm said 8.3 million viewers watched games or monitored scores on CBSSports.com’s March Madness on Demand last year, about 80 percent of that in the tournament’s first four days — 3.4 million hours of viewing nationwide on the first day alone.
And a solid portion of that takes place during the work day.
Many people are reluctant to speak publicly about their office bracket competition, because often they pay at least $1 per person to enter it, which is technically gambling.
The other reason: national studies have shown that workplace productivity slips on days when basketball games are on, as people follow the games while on the job.
The Chicago consulting firm, Challenger, Gray and Christmas, estimated that 8.4 million viewers will spend 14 million hours at the CBSSports.com site, during work hours this year. That translates into $192 million in what employers pay employees.
But that is less than 1 percent of the total workplace wages for that period, the company said.
SUNY Cortland’s bracket pool had more than 90 entries last year, with a top prize of $193 and second-place prize of $55.
Sports Communications Director Fran Elia said Pete Koryzno, the director of public relations, coordinated the pool for years. Now that Koryzno has retired, Elia said someone else will manage it.
Elia said the pool includes staff and their families, plus former employees. It is not supposed to involve athletics department staff, because NCAA rules prohibit gambling by a college’s athletics employees.
The NCAA frowns on gambling by coaches or athletes, Elia said. Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel’s firing in 2003 for gambling in a basketball pool and winning $12,000 brought that message home.
“We hope for 50 to 75 people this year,” Elia said. “It’s for fun, since that isn’t a lot of money obviously. People like following it. The NCAA warns about the gambling aspect of it, yet there is a bracket challenge on NCAA.com, so that tells you they know people follow it.”
Elia said the pool offers scenarios before the Final Four, of who will win if certain teams meet in the final.
Fox Sports said an online survey at MSN.com, with more than 1,000 people, showed 81 percent planned to spend some work time on their brackets.
Sixty percent said they will spend at least one hour during Thursday and today watching the tournament during work.
CBSSports.com’s 8.3 million viewers last year accounted for 11.7 million hours of watching online video and audio — 1.4 hours per person, up 36 percent from 2009.
Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which studies the NCAA bracket’s impact on the workplace, said in a news release that such an amount is not as harmful to the economy as it sounds, translating into about 0.07 percent of the total hours Americans will work during the tournament’s three weeks.
“It is important to remember there are roughly 108.3 million people on private payrolls, each working an average of 34.2 hours per week, according to the latest Labor Department data,” said John Challenger, the firm’s CEO. “So, the total number of hours worked by the American work force in one week comes to about 3.7 billion hours. Over the three weeks of the tournament, the nation’s workers will have logged more than 11 billion hours (at work).”
Tompkins Cortland Community College has a pool that involves 30 to 40 staff and their families, said Director of Admissions Sandy Drumluk, who coordinates it.
“We do it for socializing, so we have something to talk about,” said Drumluk, who began filling out brackets as a college student in the early 1990s. “Purely for entertainment.”
He said some people choose game winners based not on seeding but on random elements such as uniform colors or fondness for a particular university.
He said his mother chose Syracuse University to win all of its games in 2003, which SU did and emerged as the national champion.
Bars are not allowed to have tournament pools because it is gambling.
Jeremy Boylan, Cortland County Legislature clerk, said he enters a $5 pool with friends in Binghamton and a free pool with college friends, both online.
He would not comment on whether County Office Building employees have a pool.
Boylan said some private companies in the area have tournament pools.
Teachers at Cortland Junior-Senior High School would not discuss whether their building’s employees have a pool.
Robin Slocum, TC3’s assistant director of student activities, said students do not have anything planned around the tournament other than watching it for themselves.
Fox Sports said its online survey showed 85 percent of the people who responded said they would spend as much money or more on office pools as they did last year, up from 37 percent in the 2010 survey.
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