We’ve made it through Selection Sunday. The brackets are official. Now begins the mad dash of handicapping the match-ups, picking the winners, and taunting your friends and coworkers — on the Internet, of course.
The Web today is awash in news, predictions and opinions about the Big Dance, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that kicks off Thursday. And the stakes are much higher than just office bragging rights — the FBI estimates that Americas place more than $2.5 billion in bets on the tournament each year. (This year, 22 percent of Americans think their bracket wagers are a better investment than their 401k plans, according to a recent survey by MSN.com.)
The tournament is already one of the top-trending topics on the micro-blogging site Twitter, where short messages about games and surrounding activities are coming fast and furious.
And of course the blogs are buzzing, too. USA Today has created one called Bracket Racket, where the paper’s staffers pick their winners and offer a sortable stats page so fans can see who’s got the edge in three-point shooting in the highly anticipated showdown between Texas A&M and BYU.
But the buzz around the blogosphere and sites like Twitter is only a prelude to the main event. On Thursday, the games get underway, and the Web will assume its usual role of providing total coverage.
Live streams of the game will be available on CBSSports.com, courtesy of Microsoft’s Silverlight video technology. NCAA.com will also live-stream the games, complete with a Facebook link viewers can click to update their status throughout the contests.
Of course, many of the games are played during business hours, particularly early in the tournament.
Web security firm ScanSafe is warning that enterprise IT networks can buckle under the crush of traffic this time of year. ScanSafe found that sites like NCAA.com and CSBSports.com saw their traffic swell 10,000 percent during last year’s tournament.
Spencer Parker, ScanSafe’s director of product management, is advising IT administrators to have a game plan in place this week to deal with the network strain that typically comes with the tournament.
“The amount of corporate bandwidth used to view these basketball games during work hours is astonishing,” Parker said in a statement. “Most employees don’t know the bandwidth impact of these streaming sessions. Companies are literally losing millions of dollars to college basketball in March.”
Parker recommends IT administrators take the opportunity to gently remind employees about the company’s policies regarding Internet usage, particularly streaming video.
“IT professionals need to plan and be prepared for the extra bandwidth usage during this period,” Parker said.
Let the games begin!