NCAA Tournament Pitfalls to Avoid

Getty Images
Getty Images

At this point, many of you have already filled out your NCAA March Madness brackets for a pool with coworkers or classmates. Even if you haven't seen a basketball game all year, it makes the first weekend of the tournament exciting to have your five dollars riding on the outcome of so many games, and after all, the pool winner usually isn't one of the rabid sports fans in the office. There can be a downside to this seemingly harmless fun, though. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid while betting on the tournament.

Don't Short Kansas

Commodities traders have long used a more sophisticated way to gamble on the tournament than the standard old paper bracket pool. Instead, they treat each team's tournament chances as tradable commodities that they can then buy, sell, and short according to their hunches. As a team's perceived road to the championship gets easier due to upsets or tougher due to injuries, the prices of each team's shares fluctuate accordingly. The eventual champion's shares are all worth some predetermined amount, usually $100.

While a bad opening weekend can't wipe you for the entire tournament out like it does in a standard bracket pool, these systems also lack the whole "put in your five dollars, then sit back and watch" safeguard on your wallet. At various points, the ability to keep buying in has led to some serious debacles. In 1991 a clerical assistant at Paine Webber had a strong feeling that Duke was about to go belly-up and kept shorting the Blue Devils. If you thought Kentucky fans were the only ones who hurt after Christian Laettner's miracle shot to send Duke to the Final Four and their eventual championship, think again; this young clerk lost $330,000 and his job. Another clerk supposedly lost $200,000 trying the same trick with Kentucky during their title campaign in 1996.

Try to Keep Your Job

Everyone loves a good office pool, right? Maybe not. According to a 2006 estimate by consultants at Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, the tournament costs employers upwards of $3.8 billion in lost productivity. While the accuracy of this figure is certainly debatable, it's hard to argue that anyone's more productive while checking four scoreboard tabs every fifteen seconds and then cross-referencing them against their brackets.

Some companies have taken strikingly firm stances against pools. In 1997 Fidelity Investments fired nine employees and disciplined 16 more for participating in football and basketball pools via office email. No word on whether or not Fidelity was just being reasonable; does an investment firm really need someone who picks a 16 seed to win a first-round game every year?

No, Really, Try to Keep Your Job

 In 2003, Rick Neuheisel was the successful young coach of the University of Washington's football team. He'd also received some nice little bumps to his income the previous two years when he pocketed some serious cash in a neighborhood March Madness pool. Participants in Neuheisel's pool picked single teams rather than filling out brackets, and when Maryland won the title in 2002, Neuheisel's $7,000 bid for the Terrapins' rights in the pool returned over $25,000. Even better, the University of Washington had explicitly told him in a memo that off-campus pools like this were kosher with the NCAA.

Whoops! Turns out the pools weren't legal with the NCAA, and the Huskies' compliance office had given Neuheisel some bad information. When Neuheisel wasn't forthcoming with investigators, the school fired him for participating in the pools, and he went from golden boy coach of a Pac-10 power to volunteer coach at a local high school.

In the end, things turned out okay for Neuheisel, though. Since Washington had told him it was okay to enter the pool, he ended up winning a $4.5 million settlement against the school and the NCAA. After a stint as quarterbacks coach for the Ravens, Neuheisel recently got a new head-coaching gig at his alma mater, UCLA, a conference rival of the Washington Huskies.

Don't Ruin It for Everyone

 Part of the allure of winning a pool is that your income will be tax-free, right? You get an envelope of cash the government doesn't know about, and you can spend it on whatever whim you'd like. That used to be true of the March Madness pool at Jody's Club Forest in Staten Island, an annual event that drew throngs of bettors to line up outside the tavern to enter a bracket. The pool, which opened in 1977, cost $10 to enter. In 2006, the pot was $1.5 million.

The pool was technically legal since Jody's wasn't taking any money out of the pot for running the pool, but one winner started to muck things up by filing his winnings with the IRS. Apparently such a large windfall attracted unwanted IRS scrutiny for other recent winners as well as the bar itself. As a result, the pool has been on hiatus for the last two years.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Elsa, Getty Images
Elsa, Getty Images

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team was founded in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions will host the Houston Texans.

How 'bout them Cowboys?

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Washington Football Team on Thursday.

WHat's with the night game?

In 2006, because six-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers will welcome the Baltimore Ravens.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.