SPORTS DOCTOR- Bracket time: Why the feds won't bust your office pool

It's that time of year again, the time when even greenhorns can come out on top, when the most uninformed citizen can walk away a winner.

It's bracket time.

As much a harbinger of spring as dandelions, the NCAA bracket is available for action. Can bluebirds be far behind?

Chances are, your workplace hosts an NCAA pool, whether your boss knows about it or not. Some offices post huge brackets and harbor no qualms about open betting. Many frown on brackets, knowing that where there is a bracket, there is a pot. 

Where there's a pot, there's a crime.

Office pools are legal in just four states: Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon. Somehow, I doubt the $3.8 billion wagered on the 2008 NCAA tournament is isolated to those states, yet I've never known the police to raid the Jiffy Lube at bracket time.

Despite the magnitude of March's illegal gambling activity, the FBI turns a blind eye to office pools. $3.8 billion isn't chump change by any means; it's practically Halliburton's quarterly profit. Considering the government's desire to make even speaking pig Latin a crime, what gives?

Gambling is socially and morally polarizing. Opponents decry gambling as "evil," a "sin," a "plague on society." Proponents see it as a personal choice, with individual implications.

Last year, Boston College hosted a symposium on "Gambling and American Morality." Not surprisingly, the majority of the panel, inflamed with moral rectitude, denounced gambling as inherently evil and demanded immediate prohibition.

Except when Boston College suits up.

During the symposium, Boston College routed Virginia Tech in football. The following morning, BC's resident priest and most vocal gambling opponent loudly disparaged his own small wager.

He would place a larger bet next time.

Still, the FBI doesn't answer to Boston College; it answers to the government. Surely, the same body that outlawed sports gambling would look upon brackets as flagrant violations of the law.

No brackets are allowed in Congressional offices. In those hallowed halls peppered with collegiate pennants, trusteeships, and autographed jerseys, there are no fishbowls of dollar bills and no sports page clippings.

They are down the street.

Next to a good Scotch and a wealthy constituency, the lawmakers of this country like nothing more than sports. So when outlawing gambling, Congressmen made sure to leave themselves an out.

While bars aren't allowed to post brackets, sports boards for two teams playing one game are perfectly legal, as is betting on those teams.

Nicely done, Congress.

Of course, a little betting pool centered in a church or firehouse isn't illegal either. Shucks, that's just charity.

But if lawmakers have clearly defined where gambling can take place, and the office is off the list, why isn't the FBI beating down your door? After all, they know you used the Internet to look up stats, and they know which buddy called to deride your Final Four.

While government agents may be laughing at you while they listen to your phone calls (come on, Miami's not going to make it), you can feel secure that only your use of the word "bomb" is going to cause the Feds any agitation. 

In this economy, the administration can't afford to put the kibosh on $3.8 billion. If you win your pool, you might keep a foreclosure at bay, and that's good for everybody.

The bottom line is that for once, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The Feds can't arrest you because Ted Kennedy would be next. Worth far more than bragging rights, your NCAA bracket is a tool of civil disobedience with the possibility of a tidy payout on the side.

So channel Thoreau and fill out that bracket. Place a little bet and feel perfectly justified. Just make sure not to count Duke out too early. They've got a score to settle.