Americans are going wild over March Madness |

Americans are going wild over March Madness

Jeremy Evans

After Matt Tillson graduated from South Tahoe High School in the early 1990s, he and several friends started an annual tradition. A handful of STHS graduates filled out brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The losers had to buy the winner a 40-ounce Mickeys beer. Almost two decades later, the group has doubled in size but still organizes a pool for the tournament.

“It’s just a good way to communicate with one another,” said the 34-year-old Tillson, who is South Tahoe’s varsity baseball coach. “One of the guys lives in New York. Another one lives in Los Angeles. It’s just become a way to stay connected to one another.”

Tillson and his friends aren’t alone. The fascination with office pools and their prizes have reached unprecedented levels in recent years.

In 2005, the NCAA estimated the number of office pool participants at 30 million. The same year,, an online research company, published a survey estimating that about 37 million of the nation’s 140 million workers participated in an office pool.

This year’s tournament began Tuesday with an opening round game between Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s in Dayton, Ohio. Most brackets, though, must be completed when the first round begins Thursday morning.’s Tournament Challenge has a first-place prize of $10,000, while second place gets a $5,000 gift card to Circuit City. also has a bracket challenge, with its grand prize being an all-expenses paid trip to the 2009 Final Four in Detroit.

While most office pools require a fee to enter, popular online tournament challenges such as those found on and are free. Even the Tahoe Daily Tribune is part of a nationwide bracket challenge contest that’s free to enter.

At http://www.tahoedailytribune/basketball, participants can win $100,000 if they complete a perfect bracket. However, the odds of getting a perfect bracket is 9 quintillion to 1, according to gambling guru RJ Bell.

Although office pools have become popular – mostly because the unpredictable nature of the tournament allows novices to win – there are drawbacks for businesses. Nearly half of U.S. workers have participated in office pools, according to the Business Review, and nearly one-quarter have watched or followed sports events on their computer at work.

Pools may generate buzz in the office and strengthen the bond between employees, but they also tend to affect the company’s bottom line.

Challenger, Gray and Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based placement firm, said March Madness could cost employers upwards of $1.7 billion in lost productivity over the nearly three-week tournament. A Forbes magazine article said the company calculated that 58 million workers would spend 13 1/2 minutes online every day for the 16 business days the tournament is held. Since the average American wage is $18 per hour, every 13 1/2 minutes spent online equates to a loss of $4.05 per day.

“Those who insist there will be no impact are kidding themselves,” John Challenger, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a release. “The key for companies is finding a way to maximize the positive aspects of March Madness so that they outweigh the negatives.”

The first and second rounds of the 65-team tournament are scheduled for Thursday-Saturday at various sites around the country. The national championship game is April 7 in San Antonio.

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