My favorite sportswriter, Steve Rosenbloom, called March Madness... "National Screw Your Employer Weekend."
Even though I was fortunate enough to watch all of the games sitting on a couch while raging solo, pantsless, and smoking enough ganja to keep an entire reggae band stoned for a month... several of my friends (who held 'real' jobs) managed to skirt the system. They snuck out of work early, extended their liquid lunch breaks, and followed along with the games in their cubicles online via the live stream.
Even the techies behind the live stream of March Madness games on NCAA.com installed a "boss button" to help keep up the rouse that you were actually working on a TPS report instead of wasting work play productivity by sweating the first half of the UNC-Radford game.
For a couple of weeks every year, I'm reminded about the cultural and economic significance of March Madness. The annual college basketball tournament has grown into a monster over the last two decades. The intertubes drastically affected the growth, the popularity, and availability of the games to a world wide audience. I had friends in different countries all over the world sweating the games online. Even though Otis and Change100 were on an assignment in South America, they watched the same games as I did online.
According to Iggy's stat of the day, "CBS's NCAA March Madness On Demand drew more than 2.7 million unique users on the first day of the tournament. #1 paid iphone app too. 5.6 million hours of live streaming video and audio delivered over the first 3 days. Some sick numbers."
Insane. The WSOP might be the greatest thing in the poker world since sliced bread was mass produced courtesy of an invention of a machine by Otto Frederick Rohwedder int he late 1920s. But even March Madness' watered down coverage filled with testicle-numbing commercials absolutely destroyed anything put forth during the WSOP.
Obviously, the gambling aspect of March Madness helped inflate the popularity of the tournament. Sure, there are enough true hoops fans that welcome the reprieve and take advantage of non-stop hoops action. The tournament is an enthralling competition. You lose? And you're out. But only a small percentage of viewers are hard core hoops junkies or alumnus of whatever university happens to be playing.
The gambling aspect makes the games attractive. That's why so many people were sweating them. And I'm not talking about the gamblers betting on the games... but rather all those casual gamblers who forked over $10 or $20 to fill out a sheet. The federales have a hard-on for thwarting illegal gambling, but the law enforcement and judiciary entities overlook the March Madness bracket pools and the Super Bowl boxes. After all, many of them might even be running their own pools.
I worked in an office environment a couple of times in my adult life. I loathed the birthday cake parties and constantly contributing cash to buy flowers to whoever just had a triple bypass. But, I absolutely loved the Superbowl and March Madness because it gave me something to chat about with my fellow co-workers. You really got to glimpse into their personalities better.
March Madness also gave meaning to something that previously had no meaning or significance.
Hey, once the Jets get bounced from the NFL playoffs (or more likely, they failed to advance to the playoffs), I have zero emotional investment in the games. But once I wager on the outcome of a game, my focus shifts. A random game went from having ill-significance to being the most important thing in the world at that given time. Same thing applies to March Madness. Normally people who never gamble on anything or wouldn't even watch a college basketball game even if you put a gun to their sexual organs... all of a sudden become ravenous hoops fans and can't get enough of the action. They have to know the score... constantly. Like rabid crackheads, they're constantly refreshing ESPN's scoreboard or toggling back and forth between the games in order to sweat the action.
And yes, March Madness is that time of year when a random secretary, who dropped out of SUNY-Buffalo after her freshman year, ends up winning $1,500 in your office pool because she luckboxed her way into picking 15 out of the Sweet 16 teams including Arizona going deep into the tournament. It almost makes you think... what's the point on doing any research when anyone who can circle a team can win large sums of money on a minimal investment?
But then again, that's what makes the March Madness tournament so special... that any of the 65 teams can win (obviously the better teams have a higher percentage of a chance of winning, but upsets do happen and that's part of the miracles that routinely happen during the most random games). And it goes without saying, that anyone filling out a bracket or sheet has a shot of winning it all. That's why you participate and that's why you play multiple sheets. I must have had 10 different entries in five different pools. I need to win one outright to turn a profit. I need to come in the Top 5 in at least 2 of them to break even.
March Madness is one of the rare times that I wished that I still worked in an office environment. I missed that electric buzz in the office during the opening rounds on Thursday and Friday when you knew that at any given time 90% of the entire workforce was goofing off and zoning out on the games. And not to mention the talk around the cooler on Monday morning when everyone revealed their personal bad beat stories about the weekend games.
I went on a heater. It's been a while since that happened to me. Late on Friday night, Cleveland State upset West Virginia. I was getting eight points and could barely contain myself during the entire game. I paced back and forth. I screamed at the laptop screen. I cursed the suits at CBS for not showing the game on national TV and opted for the USC game instead (since that was the regional coverage) and I was forced to watch the game on the online feed.
I bet Cleveland State with the money line in addition to the points. Cleveland State maintained their lead and successfully pulled off an upset. They headed into the next round, as I ended the night on a positive note after winning a clutch bet. That set the tone for Saturday's games. I woke up in a good mood and bubbling over with confidence. I did most of my research the night before and placed a couple of bets. I quickly scanned the lines to see what moved and put in a couple more. Out of eight games, I wagered on five of them. I threw down $200 a piece and settled in for another long day of March Madness.
By the end of the night, the unthinkable had happened. All five hit. I was a little stunned and overjoyed at the same time. I also knew that all of that profit could be wiped out in a single day. At least I had a cushion. No matter what happened on Sunday, I'd survive the first week with a surplus. Although I had a hefty bankroll to bet on the games, my goal was to not have to use my own money and build up enough winnings in the first weekend and press that profit during the second weekend. That way, even if I lost my entire profit during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games, I'd walk away... even.
Sports betting was/is/will always be a leak for me, but not as bad of a leak as the stock market. Even though I knew it was rigged, I bet on it anyway. My own cockiness and ego got the best of me. I had my money with a certain cabal of bankers who I thought were on the right side of the fix. Alas, I was wrong and the losses piled up. I started to wonder if I wasted the last five years of my life busting my ass and becoming a whore in the poker industry. I did it for the money, but as 25-30% savings slowly evaporated, I second-guessed my decisions over the last half of a decade with regard to my career and investing.
Alas, Instead of worrying about how current events will lead us into a dystopian future, and moaning about our new President's economic policy of corporate welfare, I decided to allow my financial fate to be determined by garbage time free throws. So far? I can't complain with the results. I'd edging out the SP 500.
Like the hordes of other dreamers flying into McCarran airport on Thursday, I'm heading to Las Vegas hoping to hit a big score and return to the City of Angels with enough money to pay for Phish tickets at Red Rocks and a few bucks to help fund the rest of my personal writing project.
I'm also playing in the Dream Team Poker tournament at Caesars Palace on Saturday. My team? Shaniac, Michalski, and myself. If you don't know, Team Bluff won the first event during the November Nine. Two of my colleagues from Bluff (Eric Morris and Matt Parvis) had won along with their ringer... Zee Justin.
Of course, our X-factor is Shaniac.
Originally, I wanted to call our team the '420 All Stars' but I didn't think that could be cool with the event organizers. So instead, our team name on paper is Tao of Pokerati, but in theory we're the Tao of Pokerati's 420 All Stars.
And yes, we'll be taping new episodes of your favorite half-baked low-rent poker podcast... Tao of Pokerati. No Benjo this time around, but we'll have special guest Shaniac.
I wonder how focused I'll be in the tournament. I mean, I'm gonna be sweating the Elite 8 games at that point and have more on the line in sports betting than invested in the poker tournament. I guess I'll finally know what it feels like to be Erick Lindgren or Phil Ivey sitting around at a poker table and not really paying attention to the game because they have both eyes locked onto the TV screen while sweating their bets.
Action junkie, am I.
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