Hot Corner: Caught up in the Madness

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Hello, my name is Kal, and I’m a compulsive seasonal gambler.

Oh, leave your righteous indignation at home. My sources say that you financed last year’s entire $1,600 Christmas bill at a 26.3 annual percentage rate. They also see your trembling fingers routinely stuffing $10 bills into the lottery ticket vending machine. And they confirmed that you own both a ShamWow and a Snuggie.

So take your preaching elsewhere and allow me to ante up at least a half-day’s pay to juggle my 14 NCAA tournament brackets.

Not a penny of which is risked legally or sensibly, I admit.

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When did we lose our minds over this single-elimination stupidity? At what point did it become such mud-season mania that somebody was inspired to copyright the name?

More importantly, whom can we blame? Had to be ESPN or Dick Vitale, and if not, I’m going to say it was simply for my own amusement. Because most of us somewhere on the timeline between our midlife crisis and our eulogy can clearly remember the day that nobody but hardcore hoop geeks gave a dribbler’s damn about the tournament.

Two, maybe three of the first-round games were broadcast live. You wanted Seton Hall-Loyola of Illinois, pal, you were staying up until 3:30 a.m. Friday to catch the tape-delay. Yeah, kids, that was before the Olympics were the only thing on television that was tape-delayed. I know, hard to imagine.

But then, like the first lady’s platform and the name of your long-distance carrier, suddenly it mattered overnight. And over your next pay cycle. One study revealed that American employers lose nearly $1 billion in productivity over the final two weeks of March. Another estimates that more than $4.5 billion is wagered on these games. And since we’re all self-reporting, you can, um, bet that it’s probably more.

The funny part is that for most of us, there’s as much skill involved in the process as shaking hands with the one-armed bandit.

Myself included.

Oh, there you go again. Sneering at me because I’m supposed to follow this stuff. Please. Show me a person who actually sits in front of the tube and watches a college basketball game in its entirety from November to February and I’ll show you somebody who needs to discover the opposite sex.

I’ve spent the last nine-or-so days engaging in the obsessive behavior that characterizes 8.2 percent of us bracket bufffoons, wearing out the batteries on my remote control in the dogged pursuit of insight. Seeking something, anything, that will help me differentiate between St. Mary’s, Montana, Lehigh, Vermont and Winthrop.

None of whom have a puncher’s chance in purgatory of getting through the first round, much less the opening weekend.

The other 91.8 percent behave rationally by comparison, which is a frightening thought. They do stuff like play with their kids, wash their cars and balance their checkbooks all weekend.

Once tomorrow morning rolls around, they’ll clip the newspaper or download that pretty PDF on company time. They’ll work their way from left-to-right and right-to-left, scribbling names above lines based upon everything from regional bias to uniform color to nickname coolness to former lovers’ alma maters.

And in the real kick to the collective groin of those in the former category, one of those casual “fans” will walk away with a two-inches-thick stack of $5 bills three weeks from now. They will have invested no more time or actual knowledge than was exhausted in selecting a square for their “Survivor” pool.

What are you going to do? Report them to human resources? Call the local authorities?

Before that, better buy a shredder that’s industrial strength enough to turn your two dozen busted brackets into ticker tape. Including the ones you filled out in the names of your  wife, children, dog, cats, hamster and mother-in-law.

Or better yet, just do as I say and not as I do.

Cast your one bracket upon the waters and call it good. Filling out three with different Final Four teams doesn’t work, because the one you pick to advance in all three always gets knocked out in the Sweet 16. Always.

Unless your pool provides some bizarre reward for picking early-round upsets (and most don’t), shy away from anointing No. 12 and No. 13 seeds whose campuses you couldn’t locate on a map within a 200-mile radius.

Avoid hyphens, directional names that aren’t actual states, or schools that are named after martyrs or patron saints.

If all else fails, just let the hamster or the mother-in-law fill out the bracket.

They’re both a better choice than I am. And each is more likely to have money to cover the car payment when April rolls around.

Merry Madness, everyone.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com.

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