Make no mistake about it: March Madness is a work thing. The announcement of the NCAA men's basketball tournament seeds unleashes a torrent of office pools.
"When the games start, the viewing starts, and when the viewing starts, the work needing to be done stops," said Jack Cullen, president of a Florida firm that surveyed 500 information-technology professionals on the tournament's impact on work and computers.
An online survey by MSN showed that 86 percent of respondents said they'll find a way to follow the tournament between or during work assignments. A Chicago study suggests 2.5 million people will check games and scores online each day of the tournament. In Cullen's survey, four of 10 information-technology specialists said the online traffic will affect their computer systems, shutting down networks of more than a third of the affected companies.
Some employers say they have no issue with March Madness, stamping office pools and chats about last-second three-pointers as ways to cultivate camaraderie. But in California's Ventura County District Attorney's Office, for example, not so much.
"We do not allow streaming of music or watching games, because frankly we don't have the bandwidth," said Cheryl Temple, chief deputy district attorney for special prosecutions.
Asked about office pools, Temple cited California Penal Code 337. That's the law that makes betting pools illegal, although a change to the law in 2010 means most pools would be treated as an infraction, not a felony, with a maximum fine of $250.
What it means, according to Temple, is you won't find prosecutors wagering over the Elite Eight.
And if law enforcement learns of office pools at other companies, there will be an investigation, Temple said, citing a provision in the law that compels action.
Employers say that if pools emerge, they don't know about them. But some of them see March Madness as a good thing.
"As long as it doesn't cross a line, or as long as it doesn't hinder productivity, I kind of like it," said John Nelson, co-CEO of the Warner Pacific health insurance brokerage in Westlake Village, Calif. "It adds levity."
The line, or at least one of them, is streaming games on desktop computers.
"Our company's computers are not to be used for anything but company-related purposes," said Nelson, "and we stick to those guidelines throughout the year, whether it's March Madness or not."
The IT survey by the Florida-based Modis company indicated 65 percent of respondents said their companies have policies to slow or block online streaming. More than 40 percent said they monitor computer use during March Madness.
The reality is that people check games at work.
"That's all part of life now," said Mike Berman, technology vice president at California State University Channel Islands, noting that people not only bring their own home interests to work, but also cart their work home via laptops and smartphone emails. "There isn't that kind of separation there once was. The Internet has brought the world to your desktop. How can you ignore it?"
People figure out different ways to follow the action. There have been times when Delta pilot Bob Garrett has been in the cockpit when his team, Indiana University, takes court.
"We can radio down to the dispatcher, and he can send up scores," said Garrett, who will be flying to Italy when the tourney starts rocking this week.
Lawyer Sandy Robertson of Ventura will rely on her work computer for score updates. Present her with the argument that the madness means less productivity and she calls foul.
"I think it creates camaraderie among people who ordinarily you might not have too much in common with," she said. "It just establishes a good feeling around the office, and I think that kind of creates productivity."