The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual men’s basketball tournament kicks off Tuesday. And while betting on brackets and watching the 68 teams whittle down to a Final Four can certainly prove entertaining, it’s not always just fun and games.
Here are some March Madness nightmares to watch out for:
1. A $24,000 bracket bruising
Bryan Armen Graham entered a March Madness bracket pool run by a friend in his hometown for years. He told The Guardian that in 2008, the total pot reached enormous heights -- 48,800. The winner would take home half of that -- $24,400.
When Graham and his significant other moved into first place with just the championship game left, another member of the pool called to make him an offer. He told Graham he’d be willing to split the winner’s $24, 000 if he took first (a Kansas victory) if Graham promised to do the same should Memphis take home the championship, cementing his bracket dominance.
But Graham didn’t take the deal and ended up dropping to 24th place, out of the money entirely after Kansas lost.
2. Fake Final Four tickets
One North Carolina woman found herself out $1,480 after purchasing a pair of phony NCAA Final Four tickets on Craigslist, Fox6Now reported in 2015. She wasn’t the only person to fall victim to that particular scammer, who was purportedly posing as a doctor based out of Milwaukee. The physician’s office told the Better Business Bureau it had received dozens of call that week from customers who had bought tickets that never actually surfaced.
Tickets scams, in general, are fairly common at major sporting events. To avoid them, the BBB recommends sticking to reliable sellers registered with the National Association of Ticket Brokers, checking a vendor’s guarantee policy and using a credit card, which offers better fraud protections than cash or debit cards.
3. Office pool leads to legal woes
John Bovery of New Jersey used to run an office pool at the Wall Street firm where he worked. It was the typical football squares, NCAA tourney brackets, etc. But his $837,000 purse with more than 8,000 entrants came crashing down in 2010 when cops started investigating an alleged mafia member with ties to the pool.
Participants in NCAA tournament pools are rarely prosecuted, but there’s a strong argument that these contests violate both federal and state laws, so it’s wise to keep that in mind as you fill out your bracket.
4. Gambling addiction
To some people, betting on brackets may feel like harmless fun. But others may find themselves fueling a gambling addiction. One former New York stockbroker outlined the scope of his March Madness woes to ESPN back in 2013.
His troubles included “tricking his parents into investing $30,000 into his ‘business,’ when the money really was going to bookies,” columnist Rick Reilly reported. The stockbroker ultimately got help after attending Gamblers Anonymous. Those similarly suffering from a gambling addiction can consider looking for a support group online.
5. The health impact
The first time Betsy Fisher filled out an NCAA tournament bracket was her last. She was elated when her teams were advancing, but when they started to lose, she went into a funk, finally deciding the whole experience is just bad for her health.
“Now the weekend. Games on all day long. I can’t watch. I can barely ask my husband about the games,” she wrote on her blog in 2012. “I’m depressed that I’m not going to WIN. By the end of Sunday, I make a pan of brownies. Not only do I lick the bowl. I eat 3 before they have even cooled and eat another for good measure before bed.”
Other things to look out for:
Your boss knows you're watching games at work.
Many March Madness games happen during the day (it would take quite a while to air the whole tournament if every game was in prime time). For many college hoops fanatics, this leads to a conundrum -- miss a game or watch at work?
As a worker, you might not care about the occasional day where you don’t get much done, but your boss probably does. If you’re a business owner, March Madness can be downright disastrous. For several years, experts have estimated companies lose well over $1 billion to lack of productivity during March Madness, as employees fill out brackets and stream the games. Last year, job-placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated losses would reach $1.9 billion.
A love of basketball could get you hacked.
Cyber criminals know you’re going to start searching the Internet for bracket-building tools and information about the best teams, so they build malware around popular search terms, according to security site PC World. Just because something comes up in your search results doesn’t mean you should click on it -- don’t open attachments or links from sites or email addresses you don’t recognize, even if they’re related to your favorite team.
A ticket but nowhere to sleep.
There’s nothing more exciting than your team making its way through the tournament, especially if they end up in the Final Four or championship game. Why not celebrate with a spur-of-the-moment trip to the finals? Sure, it’ll be expensive, but you might be able to find a good deal. Be careful, though -- it’s not unheard of for people to lose money to a fake hotel offer during a major sporting event.
The BBB suggests asking for the name, address and phone number of a hotel in any offer you are considering and calling directly to verify that the room exists. You should also “check the hotel’s website or a reputable travel site to be sure that the location is convenient for getting to and from the arena,” it said.
Your ex could use March Madness against you in court.
When you’re in the middle of a divorce, nothing is off the table. As one North Carolina law firm highlighted on its site, excess drinking and gambling during March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day -- which falls in the middle of the tournament this year -- could be used in court to affect alimony payments.