Popularity of brackets soars past interest in games themselves

As the hours tick down to the start of the NCAA Tournament, people across the country are poring over statistics and studying matchups and trendlines with the hope of coming up with the perfect bracket — or least a winning one.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Kansas and Michigan State were the top two choices to win the national championship, according to brackets entered in contests run by ESPN, Yahoo.com and CBSSports.com.

Office pools have long been the most popular avenues for participation in this madness. They are against the rules — wink, wink — at many companies because gambling is illegal most places, not to mention that having employees devote time to picking winners can have an adverse effect on productivity.

Some workplaces, however, embrace the camaraderie.

Billionaire Warren Buffett announced on CNBC two weeks ago that one of his 300,000 Berkshire Hathaway employees could win $100,000 by picking the most consecutive winners in the tournament. Buffett said at least one employee will win the $100,000 prize, but if multiple employees tie, they will share it. Buffett said if an employee can somehow pick all 48 winners in the opening rounds, he’ll pay that person $1 million a year for life.

The hectic pace of coaching the best team in the NBA doesn’t stop the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr from keeping an eye on the tournament. Kerr played at Arizona, and his son, Nick, is a reserve guard for Cal.

“We’ll have a tournament pool on our team, but don’t tell anyone. It’s probably illegal. There won’t be any money involved. Let’s make that clear,” Kerr said.

Steve Cuddihy, who works for a computer manufacturing company in Burnsville, Minn., is a pioneer of online bracket contests. He’s been running OfficePool64.com since the dial-up days of 1997.

Cuddihy has discovered that luck is as important as skill in winning first prize. The 46-year-old follows the sport closely. His mother does not.

“I’ve never won my own pool in the 20 years I’ve run it,” he said, “but my mom has.”

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