Traditionally, this is the time of year when everyone is a
college basketball fan.
You don't need to know Washington from Winthrop to participate in an NCAA tournament office pool.
Even if you go strictly by the book, the NCAA tournament is so wacky and unpredictable that any - or all - of your Final Four selections could be eliminated by Sunday.
Big-time college basketball has a new story line.
Really, it's not all that new. It's just that many of us are coming to the realization that it's the only story line that counts.
Big-time college basketball is all about millions of dollars generated in television revenue, and billions of dollars generated in a popular form of gambling known as the office pool that's spreading across the country like wildfire.
But, it's also about the people who watch the games - and why they watch.
Many of them watch so they can see how the teams they
select in their office pools perform in the NCAA tournament.
What I'm saying isn't at all new. Television has been in control of big-time sporting events like the NCAA tournament for quite some time.
What's new is the realization that television's control goes hand-in-hand with our fascination with office pools, which in some states is considered to be a form of illegal bookmaking.
According to published reports, the FBI estimates that $3.5 billion is wagered on the NCAA tournament annually, about half of which comes from office pools.
The NCAA opposes any form of gambling. The NCAA clearly states on its men's and women's tournament bracket that it is not to be used for pools, but does the NCAA go far enough?
Given the millions of Americans who participate in office pools every year, probably not.
"The NCAA, its members, and the public should ask, 'What else is the bracket used for?' said Marc Isenberg, a California author who specializes in gambling in sports. "I am not suggesting the NCAA ignore or fail to capitalize on the popularity of brackets. At the same time, if the goal is to have a credible message about gambling, it is important that the NCAA recognize the current reality of how brackets are used."
Ohio's gambling laws regarding office pools are strictly a matter of interpretation.
According to Section 2915.02 of the Ohio Revised Code, no person shall "establish, promote or operate or knowingly engage in conduct that facilitates any game of chance conducted for profit or any scheme of chance."
The question that pops into my head is: What's considered legal?
Ohio law seems to indicate that office pools are legal if they're not established for profit for the proprietor or owner. Most traditional office pools fit into that category.
Of course, there are exceptions. A week ago, the NCAA settled a lawsuit filed by former University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired for his participation in an NCAA tournament office pool in which he won more than $12,000.
Neuheisel was awarded $4.5 million of which the NCAA will pay $2.5 million.
When it comes to television viewership, our fascination with the NCAA tournament is directly connected to our fascination with office pools. The more we play, the more we watch.