Time for your date with March Madness

Health care.

How can we increase access while keeping costs in line?

Hell if I know. So let’s talk about March Madness instead.

Thursday marks the start of the annual basketball championship tournament put on by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NHL for short. It’s a yearly showcase for the best amateur players in the country, and by “amateur” I mean that some of the second-string players make less than $100,000 a year.

The tournament was created in 1939 by University of Kansas head coach Phog Allen. Coach Allen came up with the idea because he wanted the basketball season to end with a national championship. Plus he didn’t have anything else to do in March. Certainly not any dates. You try asking out a girl when your name is “Phog.”

Phog Allen: (on phone): “Hi, Betty. I was wondering if you had any plans on Saturday.”

Betty: “Uh, no. Not really. Who’s this?”

Phog Allen: “My name’s Phog.”

*click*

Phog Allen: “Hello? Betty? Hello?”

Since then, the tournament’s popularity has grown to the point where people are starting to name their kids “Phog” in tribute. OK, maybe not. But they are naming their kids “Apple,” which is even worse.

The point is, March Madness is an exciting time, when a spirit of friendly rivalry fills the workplace. A time when the remaining 14 people in Grand Junction who still have jobs excitedly fill out their office pool brackets. And why not? Usually when a coworker hits you up for money, it’s for something completely worthless, like a school function or charity. But nobody minds shelling out $5 for the office pool.

The excitement you get knowing you can win hundreds of dollars is an incredible feeling — and one that lasts until the third or fourth game, when you’ve been eliminated.

Yet, still it’s contagious. People who don’t even care about basketball get into it. It’s a time when Sarah in the next cubicle over — a person who has never watched ESPN in her life — becomes deeply interested in the 3-point shooting percentage for the NE Wisconsin State Fighting Beavers.

Everyone follows it. According to estimates, roughly $2.5 billion will be bet on March Madness this year.

And that’s just John Reynolds of Lima, Ohio. (He sort of has a problem.)

The gambling aspect is the unspoken engine behind the tournament’s popularity. Like horse racing, poker or lovemaking, there are just some things in life you have to bet money on to make more interesting. College basketball is one of them. The financial risk/reward angle must be in place, otherwise you’re just watching tall sweaty guys in wife-beaters run around on hardwood floors.

So with that in mind, here are some tips on how you can dominate your office pool. What makes me qualified? I’ll tell you what. Each year, I fill out five different brackets. And not to brag, but in 1995, I won nearly 50 percent of my picks. I know what you’re saying: “But a gorilla in a zoo could randomly pick each game and have a 50/50 chance at winning.” True, but unlike me, a gorilla can’t come up with $5 for the office pool. Plus I won’t fling feces at you.

Tip No. 1: The shorter the college name, the better the team.

Good: Florida.

Bad: St. Mary’s Northern Baptist College of Southwest Idaho State Agricultural University & Cosmetology Academy.

Tip No. 2: Basketball is a game of vision, match-ups and strategy, so do your research and find out which team has the higher cumulative GPA. Then bet against them. Because judging by the post-game interviews I’ve seen, it appears that stupid guys are really good. All things being equal, the dumber team will usually win. (Assuming they’re able to find the arena.)

So enjoy this year’s March Madness and revel in this nationwide phenomenon. After all, 42 million people watched it last year. Quite an improvement from its lowly origins back in 1939. Phog would be so proud.

Lonely. But proud.

E-mail Steve Beauregard at beauregardsteve@ hotmail.com.


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