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Bracketologists Jim Page and Wade Weaver talk NCAA tournament brackets and watch March Madness at b.b. perrin’s in Decatur on Thursday.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr
Bracketologists Jim Page and Wade Weaver talk NCAA tournament brackets and watch March Madness at b.b. perrin’s in Decatur on Thursday.

Madness stirs the workplace
Businesses dealing more and more with college basketball bracket pools

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

Mickey Brewington knows his insurance agency staff in Decatur used work computers Thursday and Friday to visit Web sites that many companies forbid.

He knows it. He condones it. He even encourages it.

How else can they track their bracket picks for the NCAA basketball championship unless they go online to ESPN or CBS? Well, actually, they can visit his conference room, where he brings a television to watch games in progress during the first round of March Madness, which started Thursday.

“No other time of the year do you have the overall interest in one sporting tournament,” Brewington said.

And it’s not because everyone loves basketball, he said — it’s because they have bracketitis, a contagious disease that spreads further every year and doesn’t discriminate in whom it infects.

For fun and the money

From CEOs to secretaries, more and more people become fans of Winthrop and Southern Illinois while trying to pick the college basketball champion from a field of 65. Some do it just for fun. Many pay $5 to $25 to join a pool with payoffs of hundreds of dollars.

“Your mother has as good a chance as anyone in winning it,” said Benny Perrin, who offers a $25 gift certificate with no entry fee to anyone who joins the pool at b.b. perrin’s barbecue.

Brewington has been organizing a tournament pool for about 20 years, seeing it grow from five to 55 at its peak. The pool gets about half as many now, but its drop in participants is because people now have so many other pools to join.

Players say the betting aspect plays a part in its popularity — the FBI estimated March Madness office pools were worth $2.5 billion a few years ago — but the main reason to play is simple bragging rights.

“The fact that you’ve done a better job than these other guys at work. It makes you the sports guru,” said Greg Dudley, a teacher at Brewer High School, who sometimes checks scores during his planning period.

He once won $250 from his bracket, but he said he’d still play without money involved.

Keeping up with the games

“Filling a bracket makes the whole tournament fun,” he said. “Games you normally wouldn’t watch, you’re watching now because you picked one of these teams.”

Jim Page, Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce vice president, will play in two pools this year: one that helps him stay in touch with college buddies and another with the Jaycees, which gives all the winnings to charity.

He said he’s competitive about March Madness and it’s hard not to keep checking his computer for updates on scores or taking long lunch breaks to watch games on television.

“You don’t get a whole lot of work done these first couple of days,” he said.

Double the bandwidth

CBS doubled its Internet bandwidth this year so 300,000 people can watch video streams of games at any given time.

The network even offered a “Boss” button that viewers can click when a supervisor approaches. The button silences the volume and pops up a fake spreadsheet.

Some businesses are fighting back with technology such as that offered by Websense Inc. It blocks access on company computers to sites that workers would use to follow games. Many companies, especially ones with corporate ties, discourage office pools.

Forrest Keith, human resources manager at Daikin America, said suppose somebody wins and there’s a conflict about the payoff.

“It could affect morale in a negative way,” he said. “It becomes a company problem and management then has to deal with it.”

Others worry it wastes company time.

A survey by career publisher Vault Inc. showed that 27 percent of employees participate in March Madness pools and that a third of them take at least 30 minutes to fill out their brackets.

Breaks up monotony

Brewington, however, said it brings employees closer together and breaks up the monotony of day-to-day duties.

“I’m not going out on a limb and saying it increases productivity, but your brain is like a muscle: Give it some rest, and it will bounce back stronger,” he said.

Page figures locally owned businesses with largely male employees have tournament pools of some fashion.

But then there are workplaces like the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, where Dudley’s wife, Kristi, works.

It has a 10-1 female-to-male ratio, but there’s probably no other office where everyone is paying as much attention to the games and their brackets.

Group Travel Leader in Kentucky invited tourism businesses to enter a bracket, with the winner getting a free ad (worth $1,700) in one of four of its magazines.

The bureau office is now pulling hard for Ohio State to beat Florida in the final April 2.

“We’ve gotten so excited about it, we’ve even talked about getting a little TV at the office,” she said. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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