Rant: It Takes An Idiot to Run an NCAA Tournament Pool

March 17th, 2009
To make the NCAA Tourney fun you need to find someone dumb enough to want to run a pool. For the past 15 years that dummy has been me.

After each year, I swear I'm never going to be that idiot again. The stress of running a pool is simply not worth it. But then March comes and, much like Al Pacino said, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." (Though I'm not sure if Michael Corleone would find the "stress" of running an NCAA pool "much like" the stress of running - the mafia.)

Why do I succumb each year? Well, I'm not sure.

For the $? - A good reason, except I don't make any money off the pool. A few years ago I wanted to assure everyone that I wasn't taking a percentage of the pot. So I sent an email out to the couple hundred people in my pool saying, "I'm not taking any ‘Fig"'. Huh? See, I thought that "The Fig" was the term for taking a cut of a pool. Turns out it's called "The Vig". Which explains the responses saying things like, "What the hell are you talking about?", and "What do you have against Figs?" My pathetic display of ignorance did have a positive. It reconfirmed for everyone in my pool that I was the prefect idiot for the job.

For Fun? - The fun part is being in the pool. Dealing with people who can't figure out how to fill in the brackets, not fun. Couple years ago, it was 5 minutes before tip off of the first round. I was just about to take the first bite of my pizza when the phone rang.

Sean: Hey man it's Sean. I haven't gotten my picks in yet.
Dave: Don't know what to tell you. Tip off is in less than 5 minutes.
Sean: Great, I was worried we wouldn't have enough time.
Me: We?
Sean: Yeah, I need you to enter the picks on that web site for me.

(At this point, a normal person would have pretended that there was a bad connection and hung up. Sadly, I'm not normal.)

Dave: Sure. Just read off your picks and I'll type ‘em in.
Sean: Dude, I haven't even looked at the brackets yet.

(As I furiously typed in the winners of all 63 games a drop of sweat fell toward my pizza. I managed to deftly catch it with my big toe. Unfortunately, I was unable to prevent my foot from landing in the double cheese. I now had a meal that was literally going to taste like feet.)

Dave: Wow, we finished with 30 seconds to spare.
Sean: Dave, hold a second. Yeah, uh, can I get a large Coke with that? Dave, you there? Thanks man. Gotta go. Don't want my pizza to get cold.

For Making Friends? - Actually I seem to lose friends. This obsession with my NCAA pool has pretty much alienated my entire neighborhood. Though they claim that they aren't interested, that simply makes no sense to me. How can anybody not want to be in an NCCA pool? It's like not wanting sex. In fact, an NCAA pool is like 3 weeks of sex. Who wouldn't want that? Well, apparently about 50 people according to the signatures on the neighborhood's cease and desist petition.

Last year, a new family moved into my neighborhood about 1 week before the Tourney. My wife made me promise that I would not even mention my pool to them. I agreed. I also lied. A crafty move given that they happily joined.

The day before the Tourney started, I noticed that some unknown person had logged into my pool's web site. This infuriating discovery meant three things: (1) someone had entered my pool without paying (2) someone had given out the password for my pool's web site and (3) the pulsating vein in my forehead was going to explode. Yeah, I was a bit perturbed. I then received an email from my brand new neighbor indicating that he had given the password to another guy. He apologized and said he'd gladly take care of the fee.

If you think that's the end, then you are, once again, forgetting that I'm an idiot. I decided to vent by forwarding my neighbor's email to another buddy in the pool and wrote, "Read below. Looks like I found the @#$%&*#!" Except I didn't hit forward. I hit reply. And I didn't write @#$%&*#. I wrote "asshole."

I immediately realized my mistake. Somehow I had to stop that email. So I did the only logical thing - I yanked my computer right out of the wall. The cord flew out of the socket and, accompanied by a chunk of dry wall, smashed into my face. Upon rebooting my computer I learned a disappointing fact - I'm not as fast as email.

I then re-opened the email, made absolutely sure I hit forward, and sent the following note to my wife: "In the next few hours our new neighbors will cease speaking with us. See below. Please let me know if this is a 6 roses or a full dozen mistake. My wife wrote back. One line: "You are an idiot."

For Pride? Amazingly, yes. If there is one thing that I know I can do well, it's run a good NCAA pool. I can actually envision the engraving on my headstone: "Dave Barend - Loving father and devoted husband? That's debatable. But he ran a damn good pool."

What I'd really like is to be able to say that I ran a stress-free pool. And I truly think this year I might be getting closer to that goal. My two biggest stressors are:

Stressor #1: Collecting $ -
Every year I swear that I'm not letting anyone in without first receiving their payment. Every single year I get a bunch of last minute calls. I've heard all the excuses:

There are threats like: Let me in or I'll tell everyone about that time with the ostrich

There are pleas to my sympathy like: I'm your mother, damn it.

There are also promises like: I'm writing the check now, well, not like right now, but as soon as I find my check book, and a stamp, and an envelope . . .

Then there are my friends who aren't actually deadbeats, but simply like to torture me by paying late. One year my buddy Gary sent his payment days before the Tourney started. Or so I thought. When I opened his envelope all that was inside was a note that read: "How pissed are you now?"

So, the pool ends up being financed by the Bank of Dave - the only bank currently doing worse than Washington Mutual.

Stressor #2.Fear of Prison Time -

It has occasionally dawned on me that the pool that I have been running for years over the Internet with friends across the country just might involve some federal violations. A quick LEXIS search revealed that such actions seem to be prohibited by: The Wire Act, The Paraphernalia Act (substantially less risqué than I had hoped), The Federal Anti-gambling Statute, and The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. I now have an image of me in Federal prison having a conversation with another inmate. "So what are you in for?" "Murder, how about you? "Violating the Professional and Amateur, er, I mean murder."

But even if my odds of ending up in the poky are likely slim, as an attorney I have another concern - The Board Of Bar Overseers. While doing a little time in the slammer would be one thing, getting disbarred would really have a negative impact on my career.

Before I called the BBO to ascertain my risk, I prepared some questions such as: Is it true that something can be illegal but not unethical? Has anyone ever been disbarred for running an NCAA pool? And, Do you have caller id?

The person I spoke to asserted that running an illegal NCAA pool could result in sanctions, but such a complaint would realistically be pushed to the far corner of his desk. He, however, refused to even acknowledge the possibility that such a file could be pushed off his desk and into his garbage can. Ethical people are so hard to bribe.

Solution: Make The Pool FREE -

You got it. My pool is completely FREE! Gone are my worries about collecting money and ending up in the big house ‘cause the pool will be FREE. Yes, I still have the stress of dealing with people who contact me in the middle of round three asking if there's anyway they can change their picks. And yes, I still have the stress of convincing people to join the pool. But that later concern should be slightly alleviated because the pool is FREE. Right now the pot is at $1,200 and growing all via donations.

Why the hell would anyone pay when they could enter for FREE? I'm banking on the most effective persuasive technique I know. No, it's nothing that I learned in law school, but instead something that I picked up from my torturous Catholic upbringing - guilt. Yes, I'm truly hoping that some of you will feel compelled to toss in 5-10 bucks. You know, since I'm giving my time and a good part of my hairline for this pool. I also went through 23 hours of labor just for you, so you damn well . . . Oh sorry, that one doesn't really apply.

But if you can't spare a few bucks or even if you just don't want to, no big deal, because the pool truly is FREE. I really only ask for one thing: When this pool inevitably leads to a fatal stress induced heart attack, please just raise a glass and say, "Dave Barend - That idiot ran a damn good pool."

[If you want to join the pool go to DaveBarendsCollegeHoopHumor.blogspot.com for the details. Nutshell: Pool's a basic bracket format and, most importantly, it's FREE!!! ]