Raising the stakes

April 16, 2007, midnight | By Pia Nargundkar | 13 years, 2 months ago

For Blazers who bet, March Madness is more than just basketball

As the final minutes of the Georgetown versus Ohio State Final Four game wind down, junior John Winters grapples with a difficult dilemma: whom he wants to win. Winters has to choose between a team he genuinely likes (Georgetown) and a team that will win him money. In the end, Winters decided he was happy that Ohio State won. After all, he was itching to win this year's March Madness pool.

The term "March Madness" refers to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men's Basketball Tournament, which features 64 Division I college basketball teams from around the country. The six-round single-elimination competition, which takes place mostly in March, began in 1939 and has now become one of the most prominent sports events in the nation.

Every year, millions of students and adults alike fill out tournament brackets predicting winners and enter them into a pool. The one who gains the most points (by selecting the most games correctly) wins the pool, and often, a hefty sum of money.

An added incentive

For junior Nick Warren, the buzz around March Madness is a mix between the incentive to win money and some sensational college basketball. "There is just so much emotion in March Madness it's crazy – it's definitely when the most exciting basketball is played," he says.

He gets even more energized when the local teams do well. When George Mason University became the Cinderella Story of the NCAA last year, Warren and his friends had a party to celebrate.

But for Warren and other gamblers, even the games with unknown teams are made interesting as a result of the bracket system. Senior Gabe Sartor, who made bets since middle school, says "the basketball is great but [the] money makes it better." Sartor, who doesn't have a favorite college team, says his brackets give him teams to cheer for and makes everything a lot more fun.

Clean business

Fun, and apparently clean. Compared to other forms of betting, Blazer parents generally condone March Madness. In addition to gambling on college basketball, Winters also dabbles in poker and other sports pools. "My parents know I bet a little on games but they would be kind of upset if they knew I lose $20 on a somewhat frequent basis [on poker]," he says.

In fact, many parents actively support their children's involvement in the brackets. Warren entered three pools this year, including The Washington Post office pool, where his dad works. Two years ago Warren won that pool and got an impressive reward – $450.

Other parents even supply the money for the pools. "My mom paid for the one at her office for me," senior Noah Murrell notes.

One reason for parental approval appears to be the low-bid and non-addictive qualities of March Madness. With so many people in the pool, there isn't much chance of winning, according to Winters. Instead, the betting gets him to enjoy games that he might not otherwise pay attention to.

Mind off the money

While Warren roots for some teams based on his bracket, he's also happy to see upsets he didn't predict. "In March Madness the first two rounds are where anything can happen," he explains, "but [for professional football] you have to wait until the Super Bowl for the most exciting game."

Yet even with upset victories and a limited chance of winning, the betters aren't deterred. "March Madness betting isn't a [risky] thing," says Warren. "You put down $5 with the chance to win a lot. Besides, everyone always thinks their bracket is the best." Just ask Winters, who won $100 by finishing second place in his March Madness tournament.

Pia Nargundkar. Pia Nargundkar was Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2007-2008 school year. More »

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