Coach John Calipari, left, gives Rogers a piece of the floor on which Kentucky won the 2012 NCAA national championship game. March Madness begins March 19.
March Madness is getting ready to blow in. Come March 19, basketball will pervade every television, laptop, tablet, cubicle, bar and college rivalry and all weekend plans. And just as soon as it arrives, it fades as, one by one, the teams fall in the single-elimination tournament that consistently produces major upsets and Cinderella stories worthy of a “Hunger Games” novel.
And the madness is even more prevalent on Capitol Hill, as staffers root for their alma maters. The NCAA estimates that March Madness pools reach 35 million Americans, and Capitol offices provide a ready-made environment for this most American form of gambling.
“It wouldn’t be March Madness without a set of brackets hanging on the wall,” said one former staffer who worked for a member from Pennsylvania. “I was lucky to have a boss who took the games seriously, so he never minded when our TVs were on in the back office.”
Many Capitol Hill staffers have personal TVs set up, which are ostensibly tuned to the floor proceedings, the occasional committee hearing or perhaps MSNBC or Fox, depending on party affiliation.
But staffers are lucky come March Madness: The limited cable package includes TBS, TNT and CBS, all of which air March Madness games on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.
“During the tournament, you can always count on having one [office] TV tuned in to the games with the boss watching, too,” said one former chief of staff who worked for New York members.
According to the “March Madness Productivity Report” created by business consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 8.4 million work hours are spent watching the NCAA tournament games (based on 2011 estimates). This would indicate that some staffers and government employees put down their Congressional Record long enough to catch any number of early buzzer-beaters last year, such as Mizzou’s loss to Norfolk State on Day 2 of the tourney.
In the interest of camaraderie, some Capitol Hill staffers abandon ship entirely and head up the street to watch the games at a nearby watering hole.
“Before the lobbying rules were changed, a lobbyist would send an email, ‘Meet at this place at 3 p.m.,’” said a staffer who works for a Midwestern senator. “It’s not a good time to be a congressional staffer,” she lamented. “We can’t go anywhere or have anyone buy us anything.”
But the local bars boast March Madness specials, even for the financially challenged who pine for the lobbyist rules of yore, and even an intern can find enough scratch to buy a round or two at a place such as the Capitol Lounge or the Tune Inn.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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