King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Your March Madness slacking is costing your boss $889.6 million, a figure as shocking as it is bogus. Plus: Pool o' Experts devastated as usual by upsets.

By Salon Staff
Published March 22, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Quit reading this. Get back to work. You only have two more days to get anything done before you start costing your employer $889.6 million again.

That's this year's estimate of what the NCAA Tournament will cost businesses nationwide in lost productivity, courtesy of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a career consulting company in Chicago that's better at self-promotion than it is at math. Last year's figure was $765.7 million.

If you're 16 percent less productive this March than last, you can blame improved real-time coverage on the Web, including streaming video.

The only conclusion to draw from this annual estimate is that Challenger Gray is good at getting its name in the papers, a not inconsiderable talent. We can also look at the way this estimate annually goes unchallenged in the vast majority of the media not produced by goateed caricatures and assume that a snappy press release can trump critical thinking more than occasionally.

The estimate is based on a pyramid of false assumptions.

There's no doubt that, looked at in a vacuum, the Tournament causes some lost productivity, though it makes up for at least some of that by acting as a team- and morale-builder in many companies where workers have fun and bond over office pools. Maybe it makes up for all of the lost productivity. Maybe it makes up for all of the lost productivity and then some.

I don't think it's possible to know, so we'll just ignore this effect, and the estimate is still out to lunch, as it were. Or at least in the break room, watching basketball.

Here's how Challenger Gray arrived at $889.6 million:

Websense, a Web filtering company, estimated in 2003 that college basketball fans spend 90 minutes a week, or roughly 13 minutes a day, looking at hoops-related Web sites. The average hourly pay for the American worker is $17.96, so the daily toll per worker is $3.89.

The NCAA estimates there are 14.3 million working people who consider themselves big fans, so that $3.89 multiplies out to $55.6 million a day in lost productivity. Multiply again for the 16 days of the NCAA Tournament and -- violin! -- we get $889.6 million.

It would be dishonest not to note that some of Challenger Gray's assumptions probably push the lost-productivity figure down. Given the advancements in Web technology in the last two years, if the average worker spent 13 minutes a day on basketball Web sites two years ago, he or she probably spends more time on them now. And more people follow March Madness than just "big fans."

Plus, I would guess that most workers spend more time surfing during the week, on the job, than at home on the weekends, when there are games to watch on TV, so the weekday average is probably a little more than one-seventh the weekly average.

But even if we call it 30 minutes a day and 30 million people, we're not going to get close to $889.6 million.

Did you notice the giant false assumption above, the colossus of false assumptions that multiplies our lost-productivity figure all out of whack? It's glaring. Here it is: "the 16 days of the NCAA Tournament." The real figure is something less than two.

The two Division I NCAA Tournaments, men and women, are both 10 days long: Four days for the first two rounds, four for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds, and two for the Final Four. There are four days that overlap, when both the men and women are playing, so that leaves 16.

But all 16 of those days aren't equal. The first two days of the men's Tournament, last Thursday and Friday, are the only days when games are being played during traditional working hours, though for most of the country the games don't start until lunchtime.

After that, everything's happening on evenings and weekends, except that prior to the Final Four, the first hour or so of play on weekday evenings overlaps with the end of the workday on the West Coast. There are two such days in the men's Tourney, four in the women's, and all together they don't equal the morning hours of the first two days of the men's Tournament, when the games haven't begun yet.

And that's another thing. The Challenger Gray estimate treats the men's and women's Tournaments as equal things, which they're not. The women's Tournament is growing all the time, and yahoo for that, but I don't think a reasonable person could argue that workers across the land are ignoring their job for significant minutes on the days when the women play, especially because the women play at night.

They're playing tonight. You wasting much of your boss's time on it today?

No, at the moment you're wasting your boss's time reading this column. That's the last false assumption: That the minutes wasted on basketball at this time of year would otherwise have been spent working.

How do we know people aren't surfing basketball Web sites during their usual, everyday, run-of-the-mill goofing off time? During March people obsess over their brackets. The rest of the time they download music, manage their fantasy baseball team, instant message with their friends, gossip over the cubicle wall, read the Onion, make an extra Starbucks run.

In fact, how do we know that people aren't buckling down more in their non-goofing off hours on the job at this time of year because they know they're going to be wasting some time with basketball?

We don't know any of these things, at least not well enough to quantify them.

What we can know is that if we ignore all of these possible mitigating effects -- potential benefits to morale, working harder to make up for wasted time on hoops, sacrificing of other time-wasters -- and then double both the number of people wasting time, to 28.6 million, and the amount of time they waste, to 26 minutes, and only figure for the two days that they're really wasting that time, we come up with a lost productivity figure of $445 million.

That's still a lot of money, but we're still doing a lot of ignoring. I bet a real study would find a number significantly closer to zero.

Now get back to work. Is there no end to your slacking?

- - - - - - - - - - - -

New leader in Pool o' Experts [PERMALINK]

That upset-happy second round pretty much blew up everybody's bracket in the Pool o' Experts, this column's annual office pool that includes various national typists and chatterers who make their brackets public.

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS, who was leading after the first day of action, slid to seventh place (out of 16) over the weekend, and the new leader after two rounds is blogger and columnist Yoni Cohen. Like everyone, Cohen got knocked around a little -- he's lost Gonzaga from his Elite 8 and Syracuse from his Final Four -- but he had both Villanova and Utah getting this far, which was key.

Only two entries still have their Final Four intact: The NCAA Selection Committee, since no top seeds have been beaten yet, and S.I.'s Stewart Mandel, lurking in the middle of the pack but dangerous, as you can see from his maximum possible points, the number in parentheses after each entry's score so far. Mandel's Final Four are Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina and Duke, with Illinois beating Duke in the title game.

Here's how tough this year has been on brackets: At this time last year Cohen's leading 430 points would have only been good for fifth place in the smaller field of 12. Two years ago, 430 points would have meant fourth place out of 14. Last year's winning score was 1,190. This year, 11 of us could run the table from here on out and not get that many points.

My son Buster, coin-flippinest 2-year-old in America, is in the cellar as usual. Thank you to the readers who wrote in to wish him a belated happy birthday. I gave him a new quarter, and at the moment it's looking pretty good for picking Michigan State to get to the Championship Game. Having the Spartans lose to Creighton in that game -- not so good.

The standings through two rounds, with score so far and, in parentheses, maximum possible score. Correct picks are awarded 10 points in the first round, 20, 40, 80, 120 and 160 in subsequent rounds.

1. Yoni Cohen, Yocohoops/ 430 (1,270)
2. users: 420 (1,300)
3. NCAA Selection Committee: 400 (1,360)
4. Kyle Veltrop, Sporting News: 400 (1,240)
5. Tim Brando, Sporting News/CBS: 400 (1,160)
6. Tony Mejia, 400 (1,120)
7. Seth Davis, Sports Illustrated/CBS: 400 (920)
8. Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated: 390 (1,310)
9. Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated: 390 (1,070)
9. Sports Illustrated: 390 (1,070)
11. King Kaufman, Salon: 380 (1,100)
12. John Salley, Fox Sports: 350 (910)
13. Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News: 350 (750)
14. Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated: 340 (860)
14. Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated: 340 (860)
16. Buster, Coin Flip the Magazine: 240 (720)

Previous column: The wild second round

- - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------