Office pool is awash in hope for the unknowing

This rite of spring does not favor basketball junkies

March 17, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

ASIDE FROM the fact that everyone's wearing green, you may notice a few other things that are different around the office today.

For one thing, the copying machine is humming nonstop and by mid-morning, it`ll be hotter than a smelting oven.

For another, your co-workers are huddled outside their cubicles and when snatches of conversation drift your way, they contain phrases like "Midwest Regional" and "upset special" and "who says a 13 seed can't beat a No. 1?"

Finally, a steady procession of your colleagues keeps coming up to one guy and dropping $5 or $10 on his desk like he's Don Corleone.

Have you figured out what's happening here, friend?

THAT'S RIGHT, BAY-BEE! (Oh, God, I've lapsed into Dick Vitale-speak.) IT'S TIME FOR THE BIG DANCE! GET A T-O, BAY-BEE, AND FILL OUT THAT BRACKET SHEET!

Whew. Sorry about that.

Yes, it's, um, time for the annual NCAA basketball tournament office pool. Which means you shouldn't plan on getting a whole lot done today, aside from filling out that all-important bracket sheet. Actually, that business of workplace productivity suffering during the NCAA tournament turns out to pretty much be a myth.

Even though there's nearly $3 billion bet on the tournament, and a big chunk of that comes from office pools, "it appears that most [companies] don't worry about it," said Frank Scanlan, a spokesman for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., which actually tracks such things.

In fact, in a survey done a few years ago by the group, only 6 percent of the companies responding felt there had been a negative effect on productivity as a result of Super Bowl and NCAA tournament pools.

Some employers actually think these pools bring co-workers together as they compare notes on teams, kibitz about their picks and do bad Dick Vitale impressions. (Then again, is there any other kind of Dick Vitale impression?)

Of course, if you want to get technical about it, these office pools are a form of gambling. Which is, technically, illegal.

Oh, sure, it's OK to play the horses and the lottery. And if the governor gets his way, we'll have slot machines at the racetracks and schoolchildren with new textbooks and life will be just grand.

But, still. These office pools are illegal, although you probably don't have to worry about the cops busting in and handcuffing poor Doris from sales when she turns in her bracket sheet.

Here is a truism of NCAA office pools: The more you know about college basketball, the worse your chances are of winning.

You know the guy in the mailroom who claims to be Mr. College Hoops Expert?

The guy with the satellite dish that brings in 8,000 stations and 30 college games nightly, the guy who stays up until 3 in the morning watching Santa Clara play Brigham Young and can name every team in the Missouri Valley Conference along with its nickname?

Well, that guy has no shot to win your office pool.

None, zip, zero.

Doris from sales, now she has a shot.

This is because Doris from sales does not know a damn thing about college basketball, which is always helpful with these pools.

Doris from sales will fill out her bracket sheet by selecting teams based on, oh, the sound of their names, or their geographical locations, or their team colors, if someone will tell her what those team colors are.

Or she'll pick her teams by that scientific method known as the coin flip.

Everyone else in the pool will snicker at Doris, figuring she's easy money.

Then three weeks from now, when the tournament is over, someone in the office will be handing Doris $400 or so in cold hard cash.

"What's this for, hon?" Doris will say when the money is presented.

Why, you won the office pool, someone will tell her. You remember, for the NCAA tournament?

"Oh, that!" Doris will say. "Is that over already? Who won?"

When informed who the new NCAA champ is, Doris will flash a soft smile and say, "That's nice."

Then she'll pocket the loot and that'll be the last you see of Doris from sales until next year, when she once again plunks down her five bucks, fills in a bracket sheet and wins it again.

Meanwhile, the mailroom guy with the satellite dish, he'll have 16 losers in the first round and be out of the running by the first weekend of the tournament.

It's a cruel game, these office pools.

I wonder if the copy machine is free?

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