Way too many Web sites for contest-crazy fans

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you are bad in any way if you aren't a college basketball fan. But being from this area, you'd better know a little something about it because if not, your co-workers are sure to avoid you like a 72-year-old cheese log during the next few days.

March Madness is like a vacation; you wait forever for it to get here, then it's over before you know it. But rarely can you go on vacation and have a chance to win prizes and cash. There's a much better chance of just blowing it all.

So if you are free from now until noon Thursday, I urge you to enter the 453,198,690,316 NCAA college basketball contests you can find online. Go ahead and enter your office pool too ... but can you win $10 million in your office pool? You can at Sports Illustrated's Hoops Bracket Challenge, but don't expect to walk away with that big a prize. To win the $10 million, you have to pick 63 games correctly (there are actually 64 games, but the play-in game, Northwestern State vs. Winthrop, should be about as fun to watch as those dog shows on USA). The odds against that happening are fairly high, something like 1 in 92,23,400,000,000,000,000. The odds do drop slightly assuming you aren't planning on picking a 16 seed to get to the Final Four. Even still, you have a better chance of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning in a submarine.

If you want to play against a bunch of people and have a chance to win a cool prize, play ESPN's men's and women's games. You can create a group just for your friends as well, to have bragging rights for the year. In 2000, about 600,000 people filled out a men's bracket, with the winner receiving tickets, airfare and hotel accommodations to this year's Final Four.

Besides the normal pick-your-brackets sites, there are ones with a different twist. At The 'Ganza, you can win the Ostertag Plaque, which is named for the former University of Kansas center Greg Ostertag. You must be a member ($1.00 fee) to be eligible for the prize, but you can still enter as a guest.

"We indeed, have a lot of fun with it, and try to mix some humor in with the tournament to make it a lighthearted way to make picks," said Gavin McCollam, Benevolent Grand Pooh-Bah of The 'Ganza. There are a bunch of stats pages to find out where you land among other players, but remember The 'Ganza's slogan -- "This Ain't No Pool!"

Another interesting contest comes from the Point Total Pool, which is graphically challenged but different from your normal pool. You select the eight teams you think will score the highest points total in the tournament. Additional points are awarded based on seed -- you receive 10 times the seed of each team on the final point totals. There are no prizes involved, no money, but an interesting concept. Don't forget rule No. 6 either: "Picks with the top 8 seeded teams will be marked as &quotWEENIE.&quot Every year a couple of people enter this way, and they get the weenie label. Don't be one of them."

Not all online contests are devoted just to the NCAA tournament. At Uball.com, participants picked certain players and were awarded based upon their stats during the season. Swish Madness will have something similar during the tournament, where you can pick players on tournament teams' rosters.

I'm going to list more sites, but please don't try to make picks on EVERY site. If you do, you will most likely have to skip eating and sleeping the next few days, because there are just too many. Here are a few: March Madnet, VirtualOfficePool.com, Pool Sheets and SPL College Basketball Picks Contest. No word yet if any of these sites have a prize as coveted as the Ostertag Plaque.

You can also find other college basketball contests and news at About.com's Sports Gambling area. I didn't make it too far on the site, though, because I found links to Cricket, Rugby and Jai Alai.

There's really nothing to lose in these contests, except dignity when you finish last. But hey, it has to be better than spending your weeknights watching those dog shows.