WASHINGTON, DC -- March Madness is in the air. It's also in the water. And after three weeks of heart-stopping action, it will be seriously afflicting thousands of fans across the nation, some of whom will require months of counseling and care before they are able to regain their capacity to function as nominally productive human beings.
The NCAA tourney is one of the year's most eagerly anticipated sporting events. The build-up itself is fraught with mounting anxiety as fans await rankings and seedings, poring over and debating various statistical models, some of which require an advanced degree in differential calculus to grasp. Then, for three weeks, tens of thousands of fans across the nation are consumed with brackets and betting pools, exhilarating late-game heroics and devastating, soul-crushing last-minute defeats. Up, down, down, up, every game a gut-wrenching emotional roller-coaster.
The tournament is no longer the exclusive province of the sports-obsessed. The rise in office pools has dramatically expanded the number participating in and obsessing about the tourney. With each year, more and more women enter office pools. Many - men and women alike - are simply ill-equipped to handle the pressure.
"Given the levels of unremitting stress, is it any wonder that thousands of Americans experience degrees of mental dysfunction during and long after the three week event?" asked Dr. Frederick Geisel, a renowned industrial psychologist. "Effects can range from minor and temporary emotional imbalance to more prolonged periods of melancholy - or, its opposite, bouts of seemingly unprovoked rage - to longer term effects, such as acute clinical depression."
According to Dr. Geisel, "The pressure to perform is enormous. Even if you don't win, you must show results. Finishing in the lower third of the pool is not good. In fact, it's very bad. It speaks to your lack of judgment, poor instincts and/or your inability to grasp and apply the right statistical model. If you were waiting for a promotion or expecting that plum assignment abroad, it's a good time to update the resume."
March Madness, says Geisel, can manifest itself in any number of ways, ranging from the ridiculous to the truly disturbing. Geisel cites several examples of classic syndromes:
-- People who over-identify with a specific team that gets pasted early will tend to feel marginalized. They will drift in meetings, seem distracted, appear slightly medicated, and cry uncontrollably for no apparent reason. These symptoms will become particularly acute if the person's claim to have attended the losing team's school turns out to be a big lie.
-- Some take on a team's identity for the duration of the tournament. In some cases this is nothing to be concerned about and may just manifest itself as a temporary spike in annoying yet harmless feistiness. Sometimes, however, it can get serious. "No one wanted to be within ten feet of someone with a bad case of Hoya Paranoia, which afflicted scores during the reign of the notorious Georgetown teams. A sidelong glance could catch you a beating."
-- Unexpected pool winners, i.e,, those whose picks were randomly selected or simply extracted from one's "charmed" anus, have been known to become grandiose and delusional, viewing their dumb luck as something other than dumb luck. "Delusions of grandeur are bad enough, but when it comes in contact with the unbridled hatred and jealousy of co-workers, well, trust me: if you're a middle manager the last thing you want is someone with a delusional martyr complex barricaded behind the copy machine."
Mary Johnson, an administrator in the HR department of a 250 person manufacturing company, is excited -- almost maniacially so -- about participating in her first ever Final Four office pool.
"I've analyzed several statistical models and think the Hofstader-Danzig model is the most sound. I can't wait till they post the brackets. I'm sure the guys will be strutting around, announcing their picks like I'm supposed to be impressed - well, watch what happens when I win. It will rip their hearts out. I expect some will be big cry babies, they'll make stupid little cracks as I pass their office. But to me it's just a lot of fun - after all, winning isn't everything...having access to their personnel files is."