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How to run the perfect office pool

By Brandon Ferdig, Contributing writer
Published On: Mar 06 2012 01:05:17 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 12 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
closeup of basketball seams, ball

Jason Antony/SXC

The NCAA basketball tournament is awesome. But care to make it "interesting"?

Nothing like trying to play psychic to keep you glued to every second of every games. A bracket pool helps make the games more entertaining, with the only cost -- besides the money, of course -- being a little bit of your time and intuition.

That, and you get to join a company of friends (and strangers or soon-to-be friends) and colleagues. And what a way to combine work and play to help make the workday fly by a little quicker.

But if you don't have a pool to join, why not try setting up your own?

If you don't quite know where to start, read on. Although this isn't rocket science, there's no sense making the same mistakes as those before you. Here are five things to consider when getting your very own pool off the ground ...

filling out college basketball tournament bracket, office pool

No. 5: Light-hearted or down-to-business?

Are you in it for the fun or are you looking for a little mind-game action? Let's start with the latter.

There's nothing wrong with opting for an exclusive, serious-players only pool. It's like a poker game -- the nonsense player can kinda ruin the vibe. Keeping it heady, the strategy that can be applied to the bracket is teased out, discussed more purposefully and elevated. This is cool.

Otherwise, capture the fun of having people with no clue getting in on the action. Watching this can be great entertainment.

For starters, the rookies can transform into rabid fanatics. Watch that executive who's never once watched a college basketball game languish about Kansas' upset loss. Or perhaps better yet, watch the guy who took 16 hours to pick his bracket become infuriated that his co-worker the next cubicle over just smoked him by choosing teams alphabetically.

office workers with basketball

No. 4: Get them hooked

Now that you know the style you want to use, you've got to market this puppy.

This is more applicable if you're trying to get strangers. And though most folks are pretty darn familiar with a bracket pool, so it sort of sells itself, don't sleep on this. Get those on-the-fence players. They can be great additions because they're unpredictable, having the biggest potential to surprise you with accuracy and behavior.

So market away! Speak to the cabin-fever remedy that March Madness is -- the joy, excitement, drama. And don't be afraid to get specific, as in something along the lines of, "Come join in and watch John Doe cry when he loses for the eighth straight year."

Have fun with the process, it's more appealing. And be candid about the long-shot possibilities and that a "random picker" just might end up taking home the prize.

man looking at computer screen

No. 3: Get into the now

Say goodbye to paper and calculators. The Internet provides an efficient, clean way to run your office pool. (Also, it provides an opportunity to welcome outside players and perhaps join multiple tournaments.)

ESPN, Yahoo and CBSSports -- just to name a few -- all have easy to use platforms that you should take advantage of.

Creating a league is just a quick set-up -- choosing details on scoring, member invitations and password. It's a cinch. And the invitees shouldn't have a problem, either, following links sent to their e-mail.

An online pool also provides a "meeting place" for all members, allowing them common space from which to ask questions, talk smack, whatever.

And a word about money. PayPal can be used as a money disbursement avenue, but they do take a percentage of each transaction, adding a wrinkle to the process. And for other concerns about money, read on.

basketball and cash money

No. 2: Know the law

Can you get arrested for running an office pool? This really is the million dollar question. Unfortunately, the answer, as always, remains wishy-washy.

In almost every place in the country, it's illegal to wager money on the tournament. And there is a documented case in 2002 of an AT&T manager getting arrested for taking a 10 percent cut ($3,000) in a large pool. He crossed a line by making money in exchange for running the pool.

But it's like speeding, and spending $15 is like going 5 mph over the speed limit. It's a matter of practicality and authorities aren't going to crack down on these. Even huge companies like Boeing have OK'd the pools, as long they aren't disruptive to work.

In fact, it's your company you should probably be more concerned with as a policy that frowns on office pools of any kind may put you on the HR radar.

So if you do gamble, let the winner(s) take all and try not to use three reams of office paper printing brackets.

Calculator and money

No. 1: Details, details

How should you score and how about that pay out?

Well, there are a million ways to score the games. One recommended is the "Fibonacci" method, named after a famous mathematician. To conduct it, give one point for each game in round one, two for round two, three for Sweet 16 matchups, five for Elite Eight action, eight for the Final Four games, and 13 for the championship bout.

It's been argued that this method provides a nice balance without too much weight on the final game.

For the dough, make it sensible: 50 percent for first place, 33 percent for second, and 17 percent for third. You want to keep as many people in the action as long as possible.

Obviously, set the buy-in at an appropriate level for your peers and, remember, the lower the buy-in, the less waves you'll create (good), but less invested people means, well, less invested people (bad).

Have a ball!