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Has the NCAA killed the office pool?

By Jude

Few things in life are truly perfect. A sunrise over a calm blue sea. Sam Cooke's voice. The first "Back to the Future" movie. Your first cold beer on a Friday night after a long, hard week.

The March Madness office pool.

For years, college basketball fans and non-fans alike have gathered 'round TV sets nationwide with a bracket in-hand while rooting for kids they've never heard of from schools they never attended.

130 million people watched the Tournament on TV last year, and CBS took in $613.8 million in TV ad sales revenue last year alone.

March Madness is such an obsession nationwide that a few years ago, Newsweek estimated that America's B-ball obsession costs $1.7B in lost productivity from workers watching and talking about the NCAA Tournament on company time. Meanwhile, March Madness on-demand (cbssportsline.com's online streaming of the games) hit 3 million unique viewers on opening day of last year's tournament, and CBS is bringing in about $37 million in online ad sales for this year's games.

What drives this massive interest in a sport that, while popular, certainly isn't as popular any other time of year as it is in March?

It's the brackets.

More things that are perfect: Glacier National Park, George Carlin's "Back in Town" HBO special, the steak fajitas at Lauriol Plaza in Washington D.C., Gus Johnson doing play-by-play, the "Dark Side of the Moon" album...

5.4 million different brackets were filled out on ESPN.com alone last year by 4.78 million people, and nearly half of all American workers have participated in an office pool at some time, as found in a survey by Spherion Corp.

So you would think the NCAA would do anything and everything in its power to protect the Goose That Lays the Billion Dollar Eggs, right?

Nope. They've gone out of their way to destroy it.

Let me explain.

Last July, the NCAA rolled out a new proposal whereby 68 teams will be included in the NCAA Tournament instead of the usual 65, introducing a concept called the "First Four" as a new sort of play-in system for an extra 4 teams. Most Tournament fans (including myself) had no problem with the small change to the extraordinarily popular previous format, as it meant few major changes (such as the proposed expansion to 96 teams) to the status quo.

What we didn't realize at the time was how the logistics of the First Four were going to destroy the office pool as you know it.

Here's how the First Four works: On the Tuesday and Wednesday before the start of the NCAA Tournament, instead of the traditional format where two automatic qualifier small schools vie for the chance to get destroyed by a 1-seed, now four automatic qualifier schools will have two play-in games to vie for the chance to get destroyed by a 1-seed. No problems here, as the traditional bracket just has the generic "play in game vs. 1-seed" that everyone breezes over on their way to picking their alma mater to the Final Four.

But here's where it gets dicey: The First Four also includes two play-in games for the last four at-large bids, the winner of which will then be either 11 or 12 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

This means you aren't going to know who the 11-6 or 12-5 match-ups are until late Wednesday night, and the Tournament starts on Thursday at noon. (And I won't even get into the fact that the teams themselves aren't going to know who they are playing until a day before the Thursday games. WVU is looking at a potential 5-seed, but it's possible that they might not know whether they're playing Michigan State or Virginia Tech until a day before the game, whereas those teams can already have their advance scouts working on a WVU gameplan.)

So what do you do? Do you make the First Four a part of your office pool, picking the winner of games like McNeese State vs. Bethune Cookman? (For the record, the pool I use on yahoo.com doesn't even permit you to select the First Four winners.)

Do you just blindly pick 5 and 6 seeds over 12 and 11 seeds without knowing what the match-ups are, even though picking at least one 12 over a 5 is a tradition almost as old as brackets themselves? Without knowing who is playing, are you really sure Cincinnati is going to beat Michigan State? How do you feel about Cincinnati vs. USC? Differently, I presume.

Or do you wait, hoping that everyone that wants to play gets their brackets turned in during that 12 hour stretch where everyone knows who is in the field? (Hell, if they were good with deadlines, they probably wouldn't be your co-workers in the first place.)

I guess we'll find out. Why we have to find out is another question altogether.

The NCAA has hinted at its disdain for the NCAA Tournament pool over the years while at the same time sipping from the golden chalice that it provides in boosted ratings. (A longstanding rule in the NCAA is that if money is being made, we better be the ones making it.)

Meanwhile, college basketball coaches looking for resume-boosting Tournament inclusion will not be satisfied with the size of the Tournament field until it includes half the teams in Division I and March Madness looks like the embarrassment that is the college football bowl season and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. ("One Shining Moment" is not intended to apply Iowa State's one nationally televised game a year.)

"For our next trick, we're going to spray-paint a smiley face onto the Mona Lisa!" - NCAA

Now, I understand completely that I am whining right now, and that there are far greater problems in the world than the NCAA changing up their format for a post-season tournament. There's civil war in Libya, gas is $4.00 a gallon, unemployment is at 9.5%, and Will Smith's kids keep getting jobs. I know things are bad.

But March is my favorite month of the year for a reason- the weather is warming up, the sun is shining again, and March Madness and college basketball will inundate my weekends for the remainder of the month in a glorious spectacle of camaraderie and competition. And a big part of my enjoyment of that whole ordeal is filling out a bracket that gives me an incentive to root for a pimple-faced kid with a weird name from Northern Iowa to drain a ballsy 3-pointer that puts a 1-seed out of the Tournament.

And the NCAA has made that harder for me.

The message of lower ratings from millions of NCAA Tournament pool players may be loud and clear if participating proves as difficult as I fear...

Don't mess with perfection.
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Poster Thread
Posted: 3/9/2011 2:03 pm  Updated: 3/9/2011 2:05 pm
Pitt Hater
Joined: 9/25/2007
From: Morgantown
Posts: 2300
 Re: Has the NCAA killed the office pool?
I thought about this right when it happened. I run the office pool at work using Turbo Tourney and it's an awesome program (smasports:/ plugs Turbo Tourney). Pretty much does the work for you and even has an online feature so everyone can just go to a computer-generated website to see the updated standings.

Anyways, there are usually about 25-30 of us in the pool and I don't even like half of the people that play.

So getting those first 4 games straightened out with everyone is going to be chore.

I thought the bracket was fine before, but I guess people thought that too many good teams were getting left out.

The problem I have is the automatic bid for winning your conference tournament. My personal peeve when it comes to the NCAA tournament selection process. So you happen to get hot at the right time with a shitty record and they let you in automatically if you win a few games at the end of the year?


Anyways, the bracket was right before. Change it back.
Posted: 3/9/2011 2:16 pm  Updated: 3/9/2011 2:16 pm
Joined: 11/2/2007
From: Danville, KY
Posts: 10394
 Re: Has the NCAA killed the office pool?
I never really thought about how adding more teams to 68 would effect the office pools. I think you're absolutely right on this Jude. If this makes it too hard to set up an office pool then people won't play the brackets and therefore will quit watching if they're not really fans of the game. I also don't like the fact the #5 and #6 seeds won't know who they're playing until the night before the game. It seems this will give the play in teams an added advantage. Doesn't seem fair.
Posted: 3/14/2011 12:35 am  Updated: 3/14/2011 12:35 am
Joined: 1/20/2006
From: Eastern Panhandle, WV
Posts: 3846
 Re: Has the NCAA killed the office pool?
Just as an addendum:

Meanwhile, college basketball coaches looking for resume-boosting Tournament inclusion will not be satisfied with the size of the Tournament field until it includes half the teams in Division I and March Madness looks like the embarrassment that is the college football bowl season and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. ("One Shining Moment" is not intended to apply Iowa State's one nationally televised game a year.)

How true is that looking tonight after the whining and complaining about teams like Virginia Tech that couldn't get into a field that featured no less than SEVEN teams with 14 losses or more?
Posted: 4/3/2011 9:09 am  Updated: 4/3/2011 9:10 am
Pitt Hater
Joined: 9/25/2007
From: Morgantown
Posts: 2300
 Re: Has the NCAA killed the office pool?

After returning all 5 starters this year from a so-called "bubble team," Virginia Tech missed the NCAA tournament again for the 4th straight year. Greenberg still only has 1 NCAA berth his 8 seasons.

Posted: 11/20/2013 3:34 am  Updated: 11/20/2013 3:34 am
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Suspected Punter
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 Re: Has the NCAA killed the office pool?
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