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 March Madness: Slacker Time In America

March Madness: Slacker Time In America

Get back to work. 

Yeah, you, hunched over your computer with your sweaty brackets in your lap.

We know what you're doing. You're secretly watching college basketball. On company time. Worse, you probably placed a 10-buck bet on the NCAA tournament.

Don't you know it's degenerates like you who are destroying our economy? By the time today's hoops are over, American businesses will lose more than $2 billion in productivity due to you basketball-addicted slackers. By the time the final game is played it will be more than $13 billion.

Proud of yourself?

How do we know exactly how much this tournament costs employers? I’m about to tell you. But keep in mind, that staggering figure has been everywhere on radio, TV and in the news. Last time I Googled "$13 billion" and "NCAA," I got thousands of hits.

Reputable news outlets have huge honking headlines like: "Employers May Be Feeling March Sadness,” “March Madness Could Cost Employers More than $13 Billion,” “March Madness: Businesses Must Plan to Keep Employees Productive,” and “Study: Employers to Lose $13 billion of Productivity to March Madness.”

Hey, they couldn't say it if it weren’t true. Could they?

Actually, the data about falling productivity and wasted wages is flimsy. It's compiled by a Chicago-based outfit called Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. No, that's not a polling company. Or a survey research group.

It's an "outplacement" firm - a business that's often part of separation packages to help laid-off workers find new jobs.

I don't know how good Challenger is at handling the freshly unemployed, but it's brilliant at ginning up publicity for itself.

The company simply pumps out a press release every year warning employers that their basketball-loving employees are slacking and costing them X amount of dollars and news outlets run with it.

This year's press release - "Tournament Could Cost Employers $13.3 Billion” - came out last week.

I wrote about this clever firm back in 2013 when the company reckoned March Madness would cost American businesses $134 million.

Six years later, that number’s ballooned to a jaw-dropping $13 billion. Not buying it. Yet news outlets are merrily repeating that figure as if it’s based on some sort of science.

Can you say “fake news”?

Shoot, even Challenger, Gray & Christmas has admitted the study shouldn't be taken seriously. At least they did in 2012, when one of the owners reportedly joked that its methodology "gives legitimate scientific studies a bad name."

"It's tongue-in-cheek," company spokesman James Pedderson confessed back then. "There's no real way to measure productivity when you have workers who aren't producing widgets."

In fact, employees who want to catch some roundball during the day often stay later or come in earlier to get their work done, Pedderson acknowledged.

"At the end of the day, March Madness will not even register as a blip in the overall economy. Will March Madness even have an effect on a company's bottom line? Not at all," CEO John A. Challenger said.

Still, NCAA spoilsports gobble up this “data.” Worse, a number of legal websites are warning bettors that they’re breaking the law when they enter an office pool unless they live in one of the eight states where sports betting is legal: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Mexico.

Virginia is not on the list.

Yep, today is break-the-law day in America. The one day of the year when millions of otherwise law-abiding folks will enter office pools - for money - despite a myriad of state laws that prohibit sports betting.

And everyone knows it’s illegal. 

In fact, when I worked at The Virginian-Pilot and was writing about March Madness the guys in the sports department would warn me not to mention the pool they ran every year. 

“Why not?” I asked the year I was writing that a local commonwealth’s attorney’s office had a pool.

“Just don’t,” I was told. “It’s illegal.”

“If the prosecutors are betting, I think we’re safe,” I replied.


I’m mentioning it now because they can’t stop me. Besides, with so few people left at The Pilot the pot can’t be more than 25 bucks. Back in the day, with hundreds of workers and everyone’s neighbors and family members getting in on the action, it was rich.

I never won - and once had my bracket displayed on the office bulletin board as the idiot with the least number correct picks - but I always played.

Yes, I found a pool to play this year.

No, I won’t tell you where it is.

But here’s a copy of my picks. Feel free to steal them. You, too, could wind up on the company’s break room board of shame.

Portions of this post first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on March 22, 2013

Portions of this post first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on March 22, 2013

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