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Stopping the madness about college hoops


As many of you probably know, there's a crisis lurking for your business later this week. An event possessed of such dire economic possibilities it's amazing that we haven't yet found a way to mitigate its risk.

In fact, I haven't seen the same level of hand wringing this year over the dreaded annual impact of March Madness—the NCAA men's basketball tournament. You might recall that preceding last year's Big Dance there were numerous analyses of the threat the tournament posed to business productivity, particularly during the first-round games played Thursday and Friday.

Perhaps the single biggest fear factor ratcheting up last year's level of angst was the news of CBS Sports' plan to make coverage of early round games available free online.

Avian flu had nothing on CBS last March as the basis for panicky pronouncements about the billions in productivity that could be sucked from the U.S. economy.

Why the March Madness on Demand offering was clearly destined to bring U.S. business to its knees, as once-productive workers infected by the prospect of following tournament action on their computers were suddenly turned into some sort of hoops-crazed zombie army.

We were warned that—stricken oblivious to the need to process those purchase orders for the Kalamazoo office or get the Steadman contract out by 5—the basketball-watching horde would not only destroy businesses' earnings, it also would bring employers' IT systems crashing down around companies' ruined balance sheets as roundball junkies got their fix via company computers.

Oh, the humanity.

Reading some of the accounts of impending disaster as the tournament approached, you could swear you heard faint strains of "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

Curiously, I don't recall seeing any follow-up coverage of the catastrophe, which makes me think there was just a touch of hyperbole in the discussion of the financial chaos the online tournament coverage would provoke.

Well, this year offers another opportunity to measure the extent of the damage: CBS again is offering free online broadcasts, bigger and better than ever!

CBS Sports says last year's online coverage produced 19 million video streams and 5 million site visits. This year, CBS has doubled its bandwidth to accommodate an anticipated increase in demand.

Among other things, this year's version of MMOD will also offer a video player that's 50% larger than last year's, and streaming audio of Westwood One radio broadcasts of the first 56 games of this year's tournament over the MMOD player.

And, of course, to ensure that this year's online tournament coverage from CBS remains the threat to our economic vitality that last year's was, the 2007 version will once again include a "boss button" that allows basketball fans to switch the image on their monitor from basketball to a benign looking spreadsheet with a single keystroke, should you-know-who happen by.

Accepting the reality that not every employer will see the NCAA tournament and accompanying office pools as a staff team-building exercise, CBS does provide instructions on the MMOD site to block the broadcasts from your computer network.

I guess new technology has always prompted some fears, so maybe last year's Cassandras were to be expected. And maybe the lack of panic pieces as the opening tipoff of this year's tournament draws near demonstrates a growing acceptance of the Internet, and a mounting recognition that the productivity it might cost from time to time is more than offset in the overall productivity increases it's spurred and the new business opportunities it's made possible.

Or maybe it's something else. Maybe it's all just been overshadowed by the Great Daylight Saving Time Crisis of 2007.