It’s that time of year when “March Madness” fills the nation’s airwaves and office discussions.
When I worked at the Office of Personnel Management a number of years ago, someone would fill out a form and copy the brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament games. I always put in my dollar. I never won but always hoped to win the jackpot and having some money at stake made the games more interesting.
I still particpate in a similar pool. With computers, the internet and CBSSportsline.com, it is quicker, easier and the players have a lot more information at the tips of their fingers. The entrance fee has racheted up to five dollars but I still pay and watch many of the games–still hoping to win.
I always thought that going to the final four would be a great deal of fun. I even checked out the price of the tickets to this year’s games in Atlanta. The city is within driving distance and it would give a couple of us a chance to have fun visiting Atlanta in between the games and going to nice restaurants and visiting large shopping malls. I even checked on stubhub.com to see about buying tickets to the games.
Unfortunately, after thinking about it, I don’t have an extra $100,000 or so in my checking account this year. In fact, I will never have enough money to afford the best seats. Cheaper seats are available but I like to be close enough so that I can actually see the game or at least which team has the ball at any given moment.
So, I took the next best approach and subscribed to a satellite TV service so I can watch the games and actually see the players and tell which team has the ball–just as if I was actually at the game. The smaller high definition sets are more affordable this year and I can still use the system after the tournament is over.
Now, if I were still a federal employee with a job of writing regulations or being responsible for a project that meant lots of jobs and money for a large company, perhaps someone would give me free tickets to the final four tournament games in Atlanta this year. If I have enough clout in the federal bureaucracy, perhaps I could land a couple of seats to a skybox with good wine, free food and beautiful young women making sure my wine glass is always full and that I have had enough pate to satisfy my lust for spiced fish or whatever that stuff is made of.
But, having worked in the government, I also know that had I accepted such a generous offer, the joy of watching the game would likely be tarnished by losing my federal job and the irritation of meeting with the staff of the local US Attorney’s office taking delight in sending a wayward federal employee to jail for accepting a bribe and harming the public interest.
I guess to get free tickets in a luxury box I would have to run for Congress and win the election. With any luck, my local Congressman will be found to have engaged in an illicit relationship with an underage page of the same sex just before the deadline for filing to run and there will be an opening.
But wait. There are new regulations governing Congressional ethics. How could I legally accept a bribe in the newly reformed Congress that is now above reproach? Fortunately, a good lawyer explalned the system to me.
I thought that taking a free gift worth a lot of money would create a conflict of interest – especially in the newly reformed, above reproach, corruption free Congress now sitting in Washington. After reading about Jack Abramoff’s relationship with Indian tribal interests and the large sums he gave to those in the legislative branch in return for their positive thinking on legislative projects, I assumed that the squeaky clean ethical environment in our new Congress had taken care of the problem. But, what some of the press releases proclaiming a new day in our government forgot to mention when touting the ethics of the new Congressional leadership, that there are still ways to see the world (and the final four tournament) without having to pay for it.
I did not realize that accepting freebies was still legal as long as the donor was a local government, an Indian tribe or a public university. In other words, I can accept those free NCAA tournament tickets and enjoy all the benefits that come with it as long as I have not been corrupted by money from a private company.
So there is still hope of getting to see the NCAA tournament after all. I just have to run for Congress and win and then make sure I get to know the right people with the tickets.
To complete the fantasy, I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I am serving the public and putting billions of dollars into the hands of the Indian gaming interests, the large public universities and the local governments that really need that money rather than the corruption I would experience had I accepted tickets from a big corporation.
In the meantime, I am hoping to win the basketball pool so I can put the $200 toward the purchase of a larger high definition television before the tournament starts next year.