How To Win Your 2011 March Madness Pool (and not get fired)
Selection Sunday is upon us. For a lot of business owners and department heads, that means the upcoming week will be one of the least productive work weeks of the year, especially since this year, "for the first time ever, every tournament game will be carried live nationally in its entirety across CBS, TBS, TNT[,] or truTV."
For most of us, however, it means that we'll be pouring over those iconic NCAA brackets right up until the first tip (which, by the way, is Tuesday evening!). With the expansion of the field of teams, the first three rounds of the tourney will have a whole new format, which means that we can all start with a clean slate this year. That's why I'm passing along a few tips that I've found helpful in filling out my brackets the last couple years.
I lifted most of these tips from a great column I read in Men's Health a few years ago; ever since I implemented this system, I've won or finished top five in my office March Madness pool. Not surprisingly, the column's author had help from the real Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey's character in Two for the Money.) Click on this link to read the entire Ten Commandments of Bracketology, by Greg Presto, here's my redux:
According to Presto/Lang, the key first-round matchup(s) are the games pitting the 12–5 seeds against each other. This will be even more important this year because of the new format for the first round—four of the additional teams are slated to be at-large bids, which have historically been #12 seeds.
II. Thou shalt pick the right 12-seed.
Upsets are what makes bracketology fun, and even casual fans have heard of the traditional 12-over-5 first-round topples. But it's not enough to take a stab and pick a dozen-seed to win, says Stoll. "Focus on 12-seeds that have lost 6 or fewer games for the season [13-16 overall against 5-seeds] or 12s that are coming off a loss in their previous game [10-13 against 5-seeds]." The holy grail? A 12-seed that satisfies both criteria -- they're 3-0 all-time in round 1.
Other helpful tips are: Start filling out your bracket in the middle, then work your way out; make sure all top seeds make it to your Elite Eight, and don't put any team lower than a #6 seed in your Final Four. Finally—and this one pains me to say, but unfortunately it's true—don't pick Big Ten teams. Although Ohio State could be an exception to this rule, I'm not picking them (picking them over Florida a couple years ago cost me the pool). The Buckeyes (31–2) will probably be in my Final Four, but I doubt that I'll pick them to win the big dance. I'll post my bracket when it's finished, so everyone can hold my feet to the fire.
If you have your own tried-and-true, stone-cold, lead-pipe lock of a bracket tip or strategy, feel free to post a comment.
Now for a quick word on gambling. Although the law varies from state to state, a few more than half of all states are consistent to the extent that they don't punish "social gambling." Except in the state of Florida, social gambling usually means gambling that doesn't take place in public establishments, and is non-commercial, or not-for-profit—i.e., there is no "house" per se, which takes its own cut off the top of all the wagers. In Florida, social gambling has a ten-dollar table limit. To check your state's laws, attorney Chuck Humphrey put together a great website that summarizes the laws of all fifty states, and compiles the anti-gambling statutes for each state as well.
The key factor with regards to March Madness office pools is that all of the money collected must be redistributed to the winner(s). The person organizing the pool can't take an "administration fee." Also, it's a good idea to be mindful of where you discuss the pool, and where you collect the brackets and money, particularly if you work for a large corporation or government agency. In 2008, a NJ man was fired for running an office pool, despite having done it for the previous four years. Don't be that guy.
Even if you're not running the pool, you still need to keep a couple things in mind. Unless you have express authorization (I'd want it in writing), don't use your work email for pool-related communications. And if you must watch the games while you're on company time, the safest bet is to have your own mobile TV or device with broadband. That way, nobody in IT can track the time you spent on CBSsports.com, or bodog.com for that matter.