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Kent's Sports Blog: Let's Play Ball!

| BY Kent McDill

About three years ago, I had the March of a lifetime.

The year the Butler University Bulldogs went all the way to the NCAA basketball tournament final game against the Duke Blue Devils, I was a very minor celebrity among my friends and sports writing colleagues.

Because of my appreciation of the athletic teams of Butler University, a school in which I competed against in college and covered professionally, and because the Bulldogs were so good that season, I took them all the way to the title game in the NCAA tournament bracket I filled out on ESPN’s website. I also took Duke to go the final game, even though I hate teams like Duke that are always given really high seeds and favorable early round matchups.

As a result of those two decisions, and other decision throughout my bracket, I ranked in the top 100 people in the country among the millions who submit entries on that website. And believe you me, I showed everybody I could.

Most importantly, I showed my boys, Dan (now 17) and Kyle (now 15) because for several years previous to that, they had been kicking me in the butt, bracketologically speaking.

I also carried my computer around the press room at the United Center, where I was covering Chicago Bulls basketball games, to display my number to all the other sports writers with whom I have compared tournament bracket numbers for years.

For all the things that are wrong with the NCAA basketball tournament, including the amount of money the NCAA makes and the fact the student-athletes are not compensated in some way for the money they raise through their play, there is nothing like the tournament to bring three weeks of fun and excitement to millions of people.

Whether it is in office pools, on-line contests or straight up battles between a pair of friends, the exercise of selecting winters and watching the games is a nearly constant supplement of excitement during the games and conversation in between games.

Approximately $12 billion is wagered on the NCAA tournament worldwide, according to a story written by the Associated Press. Las Vegas bookmakers estimate that the NCAA tournament brings in 30 percent more in wagers than the Super Bowl does.

I am told that the first weekend, when there are 16 games on Thursday and 16 games on Friday, is one of the busiest and intense periods in what remains of the sports books at Las Vegas casinos. Thankfully, I have always had to work during those days, or I would be involved to the point of complete distraction from normal life.

The Kansas City Star last week reported that the Society for Human Resource Management did a survey of employers nationwide and found that more employers are allowing open office pools as a way to bring the employees together in an office-wide activity. Only one in five employers said they discourage or regulate office pools, the study reported.

I know the tournament can cause consternation and arguments. My son Dan filled out a bracket for my wife last year for her office pool, and even though he was in the hunt the entire month, he did not finish either first or second and my wife, good-naturedly, made sure he heard about it all month long. Not that my wife could have done any better than Dan, but she was counting on him and he let her down.

He is not sure he wants to put himself through that particular grief again this year.

My boys get very competitive in everything, and March is the absolute worse. Luckily, the pattern has been that one boy has a good bracket the same year the other boy has a bracket filled with red, so that they don’t actually have individual games that determine the winner and loser between them. I can’t imagine what it would be like if the final game would determine which of them could crow and which of them would fold.

It would make for an uncomfortable household.

Other than the 1979 title game between Indiana State and Michigan State, when I had a serious rooting interest in the success of the Sycamores, nothing has much matched the pleasure I had in the Butler-Duke game, even though it did not end as I would have wished. The boys watched with me, and I was cheering every Bulldog basket like one of the fans at the game.

Only after the game was over and that last Butler shot by Gordon Hayward did not go in did I consider what would have happened to my ESPN bracket if the Bulldogs had won.

But I certainly would have told you at the top of this article. In bold letters.