Can you feel that in the air? No, I'm not talking about the rising temperature or the melting snow. I'm talking about March Madness baby! Which means NCAA basketball playoffs, the Final Four, and wall-to-wall college basketball for the next three weeks.
March Madness also means it's time to fill out the office pool brackets. Starting today many offices across the country will be abuzz with people filling out the winners of the 64-team tournament, which culminates with the championship game on April 2 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Clyde Oliver, who works in the business office at Central Lakes College, is part of the Elite Eight basketball pool, which was started in 1985 and is still going strong today. Only two of the original eight members still participate in the pool, which is conducted away from business hours.
Clyde Oliver is one of thousands of people across the nation who participate in basketball pools during the NCAA men's college basketball tournament. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
What makes the Elite Eight so unique is that all 64 teams are drafted by each of the eight members.
"The Elite Eight was originally started by Cal Carlson, who was a math teacher at CLC," said Oliver. "Cow tags are put in a box with the No.'s 1-8 and each person picks their draft spot."
Once a team is picked that owner has that team for the rest of the tournament so getting a top team like Ohio State or Florida can be big. But Oliver said that in recent years college basketball's parity has given every owner a chance at picking a good team early.
"No. 1 teams haven't been doing so well lately," Oliver said. "Since we started this in '85 we've seen college basketball really even out. It used to be if you had the sixth, seventh or eighth pick you were in trouble, but not anymore."
While winning the pool and the money that goes along with it is the ultimate goal, Oliver just enjoys the camaraderie the group shares.
"Doing this adds a lot more interest in the tournament," said Oliver. "There's a lot of ribbing going on and you root for other top teams to lose. Doing the pool gives the tournament some meaning."
First-round upset: No. 14 Oral Roberts defeats No. 3 Washington State.
Sleeper pick: Texas A&M.
Final Four: Georgetown, Ohio State, Florida, UCLA.
Champion: Two words: Greg Oden. Ohio State wins.
Darren Larson, who works for Northern National Bank in Brainerd, has been in the same basketball pool since 1996. The pool, which had 24 entries that first year, was started when Larson was in a bank training program. Today the pool has grown to between 150-200 entries.
"Most of the core group of guys are now scattered over a dozen states," Larson said, "but doing the pool is a way to catch up with each other. You see someone's name on the list that you haven't talked to in a while and you just shoot them an e-mail."
Larson has won his pool just once, when it was still small. Since its expansion, Larson said you have to be really good at picking teams - or really lucky.
"Some people pick teams by the color of their jerseys and some just pick their favorite school," said Larson. "I don't care too much about the first two rounds but I think in order to win you have to have the Final Four teams. I also think you need to win the final game. And that's where the fun comes in because you're rooting for your team and rooting against the other teams."
Brian Finney is in charge of the tournament pool at Consolidated Telephone Co. Finney, whose pick this year is Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the South, can't remember a year when he hasn't filled out a college basketball bracket. And he always tries to pick an upset or two.
"I'm a Big 10 fan so I'm going with Ohio State," Finney said. "They're probably not as popular of a pick as Florida or UCLA. There's always upsets so you have to try and guess which one it will be. But the key is to get the Final Four teams right."
Two upsets stick out for Oliver. Georgetown, which had the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament in the late 80s, got beat in the second round. The other upset he remembers best is when No. 15 seeded Santa Clara beat No. 2 Syracuse, becoming the first 15 seed to beat a No. 2.
"I remember that game because I had drafted Santa Clara," Oliver said.
So hit the Internet sites, grab a newspaper and read the prognostications and research the upset specials and the sleeper teams.
Just don't let your boss catch you.
TROY GUNDERSON, sports writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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