Viewpoint: Betting on NCAA basketball pools - everybody does it

Monday, February 20, 2006

During the process when Rick Neuheisel was being removed from his job as the football coach at the University of Washington, his involvement in NCAA basketball tournament pools came to light.

Neuheisel admitted his involvement in the friendly pools, and the NCAA cleared him because the school's compliance officer had written memos allowing participation in such pools, even though NCAA policy prohibits players or coaches from being involved in gambling.

Neuheisel's buy-in was reportedly thousands of dollars and his winnings reportedly amounted to more than $10,000.

First, anyone who is in position to influence the outcome of a basketball game by interacting with athletes should be barred from taking part in such a pool. So I will not advocate a pool among the Southeast Missouri State coaching staff.

Second, I don't know about you, but me and my buddies won't be in a pool that pays off larger than my mortgage payment.

Company policies should prohibit gambling, but stopping co-workers from organizing anything a pool on their free time is impossible. Attempting to outlaw the basketball pool is like trying to scuttle office gossip or afterwork happy hours.

It is the type of activity that can bring co-workers together, like a group combining to purchase lottery tickets.

In fact, the NCAA basketball tournament pool is similar to playing the lottery: You may have all the knowledge in the world of what teams should reach the Final Four but that really doesn't mean much when 19-year-olds hit the basketball floor in pressure situations.

That's the beauty of the tournament, and the reason office basketball pools are popular. There are teams from every corner of the country involved, and there are upsets every year.

Just as the NFL gives a wink and a nod about the point spreads, the NCAA surely knows the large TV contract exists because everyone who picked against Kansas to reach the Final Four in the office pool wants to know if little Bucknell can knock off the Jayhawks.

ESPN doesn't call its series for midmajor teams BracketBuster for nothing.

NCAA tournament pools are as common and harmless as friendly wagers on the golf course.

Anyone who gets involved in or organizes such pools should remember two things: Not everyone can win, and play within your means.

Money should not be the driving force behind the NCAA basketball pool. It's for the camaraderie. The one-upsmanship. The chance to tell your co-workers that you were the only one who picked Nevada to knock off Michigan State and Gonzaga.

The goal shouldn't be hurt feelings over winning a sizeable chunk of someone's pay check.

And no matter how wise someone is, the chances of winning are not much better than someone who picked their bracket by school colors, geography, seeds or whatever other method.

The key, as in anything, is perspective.

The NCAA tournament pool isn't a replacement for the company's 401(k) plan. It's a reason to converse with co-workers to whom you may not otherwise speak. "How 'bout that Illinois-Arizona game last night?"

It's bonding. It's good for morale. It's the kind of thing that can add one more little reason to want to get up and go to work in the month of March.

Toby Carrig is the sports editor of the Southeast Missourian. Despite his basketball knowledge, he never won an NCAA basketball pool before retiring from the pastime a few years ago.

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