EIGHINGER: I might be coming down with a case of hoops flu

Posted: Mar. 19, 2013 8:02 pm Updated: Apr. 16, 2013 8:15 pm

Every year at this time, the thought process is the same.

Should I start on Tuesday by telling the boss I'm feeling "achy' and hope it is not the flu trying to bring me down? There is no way I want to miss any work this week.

Should I follow that up on Wednesday with a fake runny nose and some equally false sneezing? Then punctuate everything with a call on Thursday morning that I am bedridden and will probably need two days to recover?

Maybe should I just milk an extremely long lunch period on Thursday and Friday, then take off work a bit early on both of those days?

Yeah, it's the start of the NCAA Tournament, arguably the most fascinating and attention-grabbing sporting event our country offers. This crazy tournament is hands-down the most addictive sporting event in history -- or at least the most addictive that takes more than one day to complete. (The Super Bowl, of course, remains the unquestioned king of one-day spectaculars.)

Men, women, small children and annoying friends all fill out their beloved tourney brackets, hoping their longshots come through and they can win an office or neighborhood pool. (The reality, however, is Middle Paducah State is never, ever, ever going to beat Duke, yet every year, we all pick one of those kind of upsets and are disappointed when Duke wins 133-18.)

The madness every March has gotten to the point where it has a major effect on the American work force. In its annual poll, the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that the almost-monthlong tournament will cost U.S. companies $134 million in "lost wages."

An estimated 3 million workers will spend between one to three hours watching hoops Thursday and Friday afternoons -- much of that at work.

"March Madness will definitely have an impact on the flow of work, particularly during the first week of the tournament," said John A. Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.

How big has the NCAA Tournament become? Four networks televise the games on Thursday and Friday -- many of the telecasts running simultaneously.

My first recollection of the NCAA Tournament growing up back in Ohio was watching a taped-delayed national championship game after the news on a Saturday night. That was around 1960 or 1961, when I was in first grade, and that was it, as far TV coverage of the tournament was concerned.

After ESPN arrived in 1979, the bar was raised by the all-sports network televising many of the early round games the networks were not interested in showing. But many times those first-round games provided spectacular endings. It was only a matter of time until some network honcho realized there was a gold mine in waiting by presenting the event from start to finish.

We are consumed with the NCAA Tournament from its opening tip to its championship climax. It's March Madness. It's the Big Dance. The two opening days where all of the final 64 team will play are national treasures.

At this point of the week, there are three things I have just realized:

1. I'm starting to feel achy.

2. I'm pretty sure I'm going to feel worse Thursday morning.

3. And I hope my boss is not reading this.




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