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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Inside the office of Vermont's independent "Seven Days" newspaper, Rufus, a terrier who serves as the unofficial office mascot, eagerly played with a miniature basketball Thursday. It seemed a fitting toy choice to many employees on the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. But the dog wasn't the only one at the workplace with basketball on his mind.
"It's just totally a fun thing," said Tyler Machado, the paper's digital media manager.
Machado is one of many employees who filled out a tournament bracket for a friendly office competition for bragging rights. Machado told New England Cable News he has no worries about the games tearing him away from his job.
"It's just another way for us to do something aside from staring at our computer screens all day long," he said.
At the Vermont Sports Grill in South Burlington, accountant Jim Companion was one of several customers spending their lunch breaks watching the noontime tourney tipoff.
"It's probably my favorite time of year," Companion said.
Asked if he can balance work and basketball, Companion answered, "I try to. But chances are, I'll probably sneak a peek at the games this afternoon on my laptop."
Joe O'Grady teaches courses on business and human resources at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. He told NECN that companies wrestle with how to handle March Madness at the office.
"Every year at this time, this issue pops up," O'Grady explained. "The worry is people are not focusing on their work the way they should be."
On one hand, O'Grady explained, managers want to encourage a good morale booster, but on the other, they hate to see too much time wasted, or run into liability issues if gambling on games is involved. "I would suggest the money get taken out of the equation," O'Grady said, noting betting could make it uncomfortable if a compulsive gambler is on a company's roster.
O'Grady said one reason March Madness tends to vex human resources departments more than other sporting events or pop culture moments is that it lasts longer.
"The bracketology spans several weeks; it's not just a one-time event like the Super Bowl game might be," he said. "The attraction level deepens as your team gets further and further along in the process."
O'Grady advised businesses to bring the tournament out into the open, so as to not put workers in the position where they're driven to check out scores or highlights in secret.
"Allow it to be talked about," O'Grady suggested. "Allow it to be discussed, and say to your workers, 'How can we support your interest in this team and get our work done at the same time?'"
Back at "Seven Days, as Rufus continued playing point guard with his mini-basketball, Machado was monitoring the paper's homegrown tournament. "We wanted to get in on the whole bracketology trend," he explained.
The paper's "Vermont Brew Bracket: The road to the 'Final Pour'" is gives readers a chance to vote for their favorite Vermont craft beer from a field of 32 labels. Last year, the Waterbury, Vt. brewery The Alchemist won the tournament with its popular Heady Topper beer.
The paper doesn't think its beer tournament is just adding just one more distraction in office cubicles during March madness.
"I'm thinking people are drinking after work and hopefully voting after work, as well," Machado chuckled.