Editor’s Note: In this feature, five SMBA ’14 students tackle five burning issues surrounding the upcoming NCAA Tournament, including everything from the business question of whether student-athletes should be compensated to our top upset picks.
1. When filling out your bracket, do you prefer analyzing statistics or going with your gut?
Michael Schwartz: I rely on more statistics than Paul DePodesta in Moneyball. Obviously there is an element of gut as well, but I like to use the probabilities to inform my gut. I’m an avid reader of ESPN’s Giant Killers blog, as I feel modeling past upsets can help predict future Goliath slayings. Of course, the fact that there are no perfect models makes the NCAA Tournament more fun, but why not shift the odds in your favor by predicting long shots that are undervalued by the prognosticating masses?
Adam John: I employ roughly a 75/25 gut to statistics hybrid. I simply do not have the time to review data for a field of 68. There are also a few Vegas sharps whose opinions I value quite highly.
Rich Davis: I think it’s a little bit of both. I don’t know if I would call it analysis, but I like to focus on stats that seem to matter in close games (which are expected in March). I like teams that rebound effectively and shoot a good free-throw percentage to go deep in the tournament, while I steer clear of teams that rely heavily on three-pointers or the performance of one guy. Teams like that may be good for a game or two, but tend to fizzle eventually.
Danny Roach: A combination of both. I definitely spend a couple hours poring over statistics beforehand, but when it comes down to it, the smallest, most insignificant reasons can cause me to go one direction or another. Some metrics I do like to use include field goal percentage, defensive field goal percentage and win-loss versus tournament teams.
Jeff Warren: My gut. I’ve been following most of these teams all season, so I feel I have a decent read on a good majority of them. I definitely don’t ignore statistics, but there’s a reason they call it March Madness. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to this tourney, and you have to go with your instincts.
2. We are lucky to have Thursday off for our annual SMBA March Madness Holiday, but most others are not so lucky. Of course, most Americans plan on watching anyway, as a Chicago outplacement consulting organization estimated that The Big Dance will cost American businesses $134 million in lost productivity over the first two days of the tourney. How should businesses treat March Madness?
Michael Schwartz: If I were running corporate America, I would designate one employee to run the update desk to alert the rest of the company to gather around the television in the final minutes of a close contest. Short of that I would just hold them accountable by giving them free rein to enjoy the tournament as they wish so long as they make up the lost productivity in efficiency or working after hours. So long as the “time-wasting” is inevitable, such a plan can make the best of it without forcing employees to toggle the dreaded “Boss Button” on March Madness on Demand.
Adam John: I think employers should embrace it and use it as a team building or camaraderie boosting tool. Or since this really only pertains to two days (the first Thursday and Friday), employers could just accept the fact that while productivity will undoubtedly be lost, it is a spit in the ocean compared to the amount of time employees waste in general.
Rich Davis: This is a pretty relevant question to me, as I may have added to that number while in the workforce. I think a company would benefit from embracing March Madness. Creating an office bracket pool is a great way to promote camaraderie among employees. During the games, a company could block the sites on their computers, but set up a TV in the break-room, so workers can get their basketball fix, while not spending all day focusing on the games.
Danny Roach: The NCAA Tournament has become such a big deal in America that even my mom has the slightest interest, so I think it’s nearly impossible, and inadvisable, to try to snuff out all in-office tracking and viewing. I would suggest that companies set up a TV in a designated room for group viewing, but that they highly discourage employees from streaming games on their work computers. This way a line is drawn between when and where games can be watched.
Jeff Warren: Honestly, just let them eat cake. There is a much better chance of employees being productive if they don’t have to worry about being chastised for watching a little bit of basketball on arguably the most important day of the college basketball year.
3. In our Licensing course, Prof. Dan Bruton has been talking about the class action lawsuit started by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon, which — as Charles P. Pierce at Grantland puts it — is over “the NCAA’s right to profit forever from the names, images and likenesses of the people who play the games without compensating the players at all.” The NCAA is expected to receive $10.8 billion over 14 years in its current TV deal (at least before discounting it to present value), but players don’t see a penny of it. What’s your solution to the question of whether players should get their cut?
Michael Schwartz: It’s an impossible question without an easy answer because the players are obviously getting screwed, but paying them would bring up so many logistical issues such as not being able to fully fund the rest of the athletics department. That could make Title IX practically infeasible and lead to the widespread slashing of programs. That’s why I favor the Olympic model of allowing athletes to be paid by outside sources. It might feel awkward at first considering the way the NCAA harshly enforces such infractions these days, but this solution will keep the players and athletic departments happy while allowing college sports as we know it to remain intact.
Adam John: Completely overhauling the system to fully pay athletes would prove arduous and likely unearth new problems. Small changes could have a positive impact – players most certainly deserve a cut (maybe held in escrow until they leave school) when schools/NCAA profit from their likenesses; judiciously increase stipends; remove League age restrictions so that able players may make a living immediately after high school.
Rich Davis: As compelling as Mr. Pierce’s argument is, I’ve always been against paying collegiate athletes. I just think once you pay one athlete or team, you open a can of worms. Should football players rake in all of the money while the tennis players get nothing? And then competitive balance comes into play. The teams with the most money would attract the best players, leaving 10 schools with the cream of the crop, while others are destined for futility.
Danny Roach: I do have a problem with how the NCAA profits off of student-athletes and the extreme financial restrictions placed on these kids who literally don’t have enough free time to get a paying job on top of school and sports. With that said, I’m not exactly in favor of paying current student-athletes, because then you have to assess the value of each one individually (unless you pay each the same stipend, in which case the star athletes will throw a fit). I am however in favor of reducing or eliminating the restrictions on student athletes profiting off of endorsements.
Jeff Warren: When considering NCAA basketball specifically, the only fair solution I see is that players get a cut of a hypothetical tournament prize pool. The further your team advances, the more money a team (and subsequently, each player) receives. The cream rises to the top during the tournament, and with this method, at least the best players would be receiving their cut.
4. What’s your top upset pick for the first weekend of games?
Michael Schwartz: Pittsburgh over Gonzaga in the second round. Any stathead would tell you it’s a crime that the Panthers are a No. 8 seed, so this pick is more about them than any anti-Zags sentiment.
Adam John: Davidson over Marquette or the Pittsburgh/Wichita St. winner over Gonzaga.
Rich Davis: My biggest upset in the opening weekend comes in the East Region. I like No. 14 Davidson to beat No. 3 Marquette for a couple of reasons. As I said before, I like teams that shoot well from the free throw line. The Wildcats shot 80.1 percent from the line this season, which was tops in the nation. Also, they are hot. They come into the tournament with momentum, riding a 17-game winning streak.
Danny Roach: I like St. Mary’s over Memphis. St. Mary’s shoots well and shares the ball very well. I wouldn’t go to the bank with that if I were you though.
Jeff Warren: Major upset: South Dakota State (the other SDSU) over Michigan. The Jackrabbits have tournament experience, and an NBA-ready talent in Nate Wolters running the show. Michigan has just been too inconsistent throughout the year to put any faith in them.
Minor upsets: Creighton over Duke, Belmont over New Mexico, Iowa State over Notre Dame.
Bold Prediction: Gonzaga doesn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
5. Who is going to win it all?
Michael Schwartz: The beauty of this year’s tournament is that it’s so wide open it would hardly be a surprise if any of the 1 or 2 seeds won it all, and with the way the nation’s No. 1 team seemed to lose every weekend perhaps this will be the year that a super darkhorse wins it all. That being said, I’m going to stick with my preseason pick (when I wasn’t being a homer with my UA Wildcats) and say Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers will be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
Adam John: I never pick my alma mater, Kansas, to win it all, so I will continue that custom and take Miami.
Rich Davis: As a Florida State alum, it pains me to say that I picked Miami to cut down the nets. I have seen them play a few times and really love their game. I think point guard is the most important position, and Miami has one of the best in the nation in Shane Larkin. They play sticky defense and have a balanced offense, which I love. I know they don’t have experience, but I think experience is overrated.
Danny Roach: Unfortunately UCLA (my alma mater) and SDSU are not realistic candidates this year, so I’m going with Kansas. They have a tough bracket but I think they’re the best team in the country. Being under the radar come tourney time doesn’t hurt either.
Jeff Warren: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Louisville will take the crown this year. There’s just too much athleticism and talent, and not to mention one of the best college coaches of all time at the helm.