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.

Save Up to 80 Percent on Furniture, Home Decor, and Appliances During Wayfair's Way Day 2020 Sale

Wayfair
Wayfair

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.