Tuesday night’s Siena-Alcorn State contest may not have meant much to the average person, but to fans of college basketball, it could mean only one thing – the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Paul Wong
Another way to make some money.

Aside from the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament may be one of the biggest betting bonanzas of the year. From coast to coast, countless people (whether they are students or professionals) enter gambling pools related to the Big Dance.

Often, for just a few dollars, people can submit multiple brackets in the hopes that they might get lucky, win a tournament pool and reap a large financial reward at the end. There are also numerous free pools available online (at websites like ESPN.com or CNNSI.com), so it is entirely possible to take part in “March Madness” without spending a dime.

The practice of betting on the NCAA Tournament isn’t something that is restricted to the college-age crowd. Many people get involved in NCAA Tournament gambling at a very young age.

“I’ve been involved with tournament pools for about eight years,” LSA senior Robert Clubb said. “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing.”

Picking the winners of the individual games has always been a hotly-contested issue. There are those who believe that a lot of skill is necessary to pick the winners. That may be true to an extent, but Clubb holds a much more realistic view.

“A lot of it is luck,” he said. “You could watch every single game during the year and still do horribly in a pool.”

Although it is by no means a requirement, a lot of people choose to enter an NCAA Tournament pool with a group of friends. Aside from the obvious benefit of taking your friends’ money, entering a pool with people you know can just make the whole experience more enjoyable for everybody.

“I think most people do it with their friends or with their work,” LSA senior Michael Fine said. “If you throw in a little bit of money, you could make a lot.”

It probably does not come as much of a surprise that numerous students are interested in basketball betting pools. But, what might come as a little bit of a shock is the fact that grown-ups can get involved in NCAA Tournament gambling, too.

Biology prof. Ken Balazovich said when he worked at the University Medical School several years ago, some people he knew “had a very large pool. They would hand out a sheet and collect $20 per person. There were a large number of people who would participate, probably 75 to 100 people that would particpate in that pool.”

Balazovich’s situation was a little different from what students face. While the average student may see a gambling pool as a clear chance to make a few extra bucks while watching obscene amounts of basketball, Balazovich had a different theory for why the particular pool he was involved in had such widespread appeal.

“I don’t think they were really into” the money, Balazovich said. “I think many people were just excited because it was the NCAAs, and a lot of times Michigan and Michigan State were in it. People were just very interested in the basketball games themselves and the seedings.

“I think the pool was just sort of a competition thing. We were in research, and there was always competition with everything. People would just have fun with each other in labs, and because lab work is sometimes very intense, this was just another outlet for us.”

Although Balazovich did not put any money into his tournament pool – as it turned out, he ended up winning – it is a very common practice for people to toss a few dollars into a pool in the hopes that they could end up winning the whole pot.

This, of course, is a direct form of sports gambling, something which is frowned upon by the NCAA. This is especially salient when an NCAA athlete is the one placing bets (e.g. Florida guard Teddy Dupay, who was kicked off the team for gambling prior to this season), but the question remains whether or not it is really okay for the average student or professional to bet on college sports. In general, the attitude towards sports gambling among students seems to be pretty ambivalent.

“It’s just for fun,” LSA senior Rob Lampman said. “It’s not anything where people are going to make a living on it.”

“I don’t think it’s a big deal at all,” Fine added. “It’s harmless.”

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