March Madness 2014: 5 crazy facts about NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Last Thursday-Sunday, no less than 48 games were played in the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – a time of year appropriately labeled March Madness.

Each March, millions of Americans – many of whom don’t follow college basketball for most of the year – fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket in the hopes of winning money and bragging rights.

Just how crazy does March Madness get? Here are five facts about the tournament that may surprise you:

1. Productivity takes a nosedive. With each NCAA Tournament game now available on laptops, smartphones and tablets, employees are inundated with temptations to place their eyes off their work and on to the basketball court – which costs employers a staggering amount of money each year.

A study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based staffing firm, concluded that American businesses lose a combined $1.2 billion for every hour of employee unproductivity during March Madness. That could have something to do with the fact that, according to the study, 50 million Americans participate in an office bracket pool each year.

2. Office gambling skyrockets. Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket is perhaps the most popular type of office betting pool in the U.S. – and, of course, most of this betting occurs off the books.

According to an ABC News report, up to $70 million in legal gambling is spent on the NCAA Tournament each year. But that number is just a drop in the bucket.

A 1999 report by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission noted that over 90% of all sports betting in the U.S. is of the not-so-legal variety. If so, that means that over $700 million – which amounts to just over 30 minutes of lost work productivity – is wagered on the NCAA Tournament each year.

3. Prop bets abound. Along with filling out brackets and betting on individual games, USA Today’s Chris Chase says there are all kinds of interesting novelty (or prop) bets placed during each year’s NCAA Tournament.

Notable prop bets for the 2014 tournament include:

-Which conference will the national champion come from? (6-1 odds for the Pac-12)

-What seed will the national champion be? (3-2 odds for a No. 1 seed; 25-1 for a No. 6 seed)

-Will a Canadian win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award? (10-1)

4. Nobody picks a perfect bracket... A lot of folks got excited when billionaire investor Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone who could fill out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket.

Was he crazy for doing so? Hardly. A DePaul University math professor concluded that the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. (Although the professor noted that the odds for someone with a significant knowledge of college basketball could be as high as 1 in 128 billion. So, there’s that.)

As noted: Every American could fill out a random tournament bracket for the next 290 million years, and there would still be a 99% chance that no one would win Buffett’s contest.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that none of the millions of Americans who filled out a 2014 bracket are still perfect heading into this week’s Sweet 16 games. The only winner here is Buffett, who received a mountain of publicity for offering a reward that is all but impossible to obtain.

5. …but this kid came closer than anyone. So, has anyone ever come close to filling out a perfect bracket? Well, sort of.

In 2010, a 17-year-old autistic boy named Alex Herrmann correctly predicted every NCAA Tournament game all the way up to the Sweet 16 – a perfect 48 for 48 – including several significant upsets.

But on the first day of Sweet 16 play, Herrmann’s perfect run was spoiled when he incorrectly predicted that top-seeded Syracuse would defeat No. 5 seed Butler. A nice run – but in the grand scheme of the tournament, still light years from perfection.

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