Walcoff: Tourney time bad for business? Madness 

Who cares if you hibernated all winter and look like you’re hiding a baseball under your shirt, it’s the first day of spring and the start of March Madness, so go ahead and jump into the office pool.

But according to industry analysts, the ever-popular ritual of betting on the NCAA Tournament in the workplace costs U.S. companies more than a billion dollars in lost productivity. Workers watching the games on their computers and tracking the action online are engaged in "time theft."

Time out.

I say companies actually benefit from the tournament. Instead of ignoring your co-worker at the water cooler, you can now swap stories of your favorite team’s fortunes or maybe learn that you and your office rival went to the same school, providing an instant morale boost that could only enhance worker camaraderie and output. Unless, of course, the secretary who only knows Siena as a nice city in Italy and Belmont as a great racetrack has the winning sheet.

By the way, we’ve never had all four No. 1 seeds make it to the Final Four, but this year’s fab four — North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Memphis — look as good as John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Unfortunately, we seem to be paying a steep price for athletic success in college sports. The Tar Heels are the only team among the top seeds that graduates at least 50 percent of its players. No 2 seeds Tennessee and Texas graduated only 33 percent of their players during a six-year period. If the NCAA truly cared about the student-athlete, it would limit the tournament field to schools with at least a 66 percent graduation rate.

I’m no fan of Bob Knight, but he graduated more than 90 percent of his players and still became college men’s basketball’s winningest coach. Great theater watching Mr. Irascible channeling Mother Theresa during his first week on the job as studio analyst praising just about the entire college coaching fraternity.

Knight, who once said he wanted to be buried upside down so his critics could kiss his derriere, is now a reluctant member of the hated media. Although he insists on calling himself a consultant to accentuate his outsider role, he’s the only one on the set without a sport coat and tie. Imagine Knight’s reaction if one of his players tried that tired, preppy sweater look on a road trip or postgame news conference.

» Postscript to last week’s Jerry Rice jersey flap: The 49ers are telling me they will retire "Flash 80’s" uniform "at the appropriate time." But maybe what’s really holding up the honor is some residual bad blood between Jerry and the Niners. In a recent interview we had on KGO Radio, Jerry said he never would have rushed back from ACL surgery in 1997 had he known the high risk of reinjuring his knee, which he did in his first game back. Rice also said the team deliberately kept him from having a big day in his farewell game in San Francisco so fans would more readily accept his release.

I was the sideline reporter and postgame talk-show host for 49ers games during those years, and remember Jerry being eager to make a speedy return despite a doctor’s warnings. In his last game in the Red and Gold, in December 2000, the Chicago Bears double-teamed Rice virtually the entire day, enabling Terrell Owens to run wild and free and set an NFL recordwith 20 receptions. Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia said Rice’s conspiracy accusations were untrue, but the professor of revisionist history still sounds bitter.

Rich Walcoff is the sports director at KGO Radio (810 AM) and can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the "KGO Morning News." He can also be reached at richwalcoff@abc-sf.com.

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