Thursday, March 20, 2008

Busting Bracketology

Today is the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Today and tomorrow, 64 teams will play and be cut down to 32. Across the country, billions of dollars are changing hands as people enter pools, attempting to predict the outcome. On ESPN, Mike and Mike have their annual bracket wager under way. This year, if one loses, he will have to dye his hair a different color every day for a week. If the other loses, he will have to enter a competitive eating contest. It is all in fun and games. For pride, for a little bit of money, and for the spirit of competition (and a distraction from work).

But in a many states, bracket pools constitute illegal gambling. Depending on the amount of money changing hands, and the way a pool is run, people could even be facing jail time. Not that any of these rules are ever enforced. And I would bet dollars to donuts that the people charged with enforcing these laws are actually breaking them by participating in pools themselves. Former University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired from that position for entering a bracket pool. Let me repeat that: the football coach was fired for betting on a totally different sport. Neuheisel was later awarded millions of dollars in damages against the University of Washington and the NCAA.

This is not a joke, folks. This is serious business. And like many of our drug laws, it is utterly ridiculous. Any law that makes criminals out of this many Americans is probably not a good law. And enforced or not, these laws are on the books, available for use by law enforcement agencies. Have a problem with your neighbor? Odds are you could turn him in for betting on Kansas to beat Duke in the championship game. Or for that other favorite betting time of year, the Super Bowl.

Sports and gambling go hand in hand. They cannot be separated easily. And why should they? For the most part, it is all in fun. Let those of us who were never tall enough or good enough to ever play major college basketball have some fun riding not just our favorite teams but our analysis of their matchups (or jersey colors or mascots in some cases) to victory.

As for my bracket this year? North Carolina beats Texas in the championship, with UCLA and Wisconsin joining them in the Final 4. Go Tar Heels!