INDIANAPOLIS. Marty Trowbridge is Chief Operating Officer of WidgeTek, a manufacturer with locations throughout the midwest. “Our business is crucial to customers who buy our stuff,” he says, “whatever it may be.”
But last week productivity stalled at the manufacturer of fly-wheel hasps and pneumatic flanges, then slipped behind schedule as the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament began.
“We generally see a drop-off of twenty-five to thirty percent in non-farm productivity once ‘March Madness’ starts,” said Edward Hutchins of the U.S. Department of Labor. “All of sudden people who don’t give a rat’s ass about Gonzaga are checking scores on-line when they should be filing paper in manila folders or doing other important stuff like that.”
“Your secretary beat you too?”
In the past, business groups have held their fire under the assumption that office betting pools helped boost employee morale and ultimately made for a more productive work force–but no more. Friday the US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s large business group, filed suit against the NCAA in federal court here, alleging that the annual hoops extravaganza hurts American businesses.
A poll by Fortune Magazine indicates that the change of heart comes after years of losses by CEOs to their secretaries, who use non-traditional handicapping techniques to make their picks, ignoring more sophisticated measures such as strength of schedule, margin of victory and total compensation paid to players.
“I have found that the most reliable predictor of success in the tournament is uniform colors,” says Ilene Grealey, executive secretary to Marvin Kramm of International Auger and Boring Machines. “A lot of ‘gals’ swear by mascots as the most relevant yardstick, but you never know who’s inside those big furry outfits.”
The Chamber is seeking a court order that would limit the number of bracket sheets a secretary could fill out at companies with fewer than 40 employees. “In a mom-and-pop company, you can’t have somebody doing three different sheets based on who’s got the cutest coach, where their mother went to college and an old sweatshirt their boyfriend gave them in high school,” says Kramm. “It gives your secretary too many ways to win.”
An NCAA spokesman said it would try to reach an out-of-court settlement with the powerful trade organization, but was not optimistic. “Your average businessman is about as flexible as Bobby Knight on a bad day,” Allen Barkley noted. “They don’t negotiate–they throw stuff.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “This Just In–From Gerbil Sports Network.”