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Column: It’s almost March, time to start filling out those brackets

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I have made a few dollars in my day filling out college basketball tournament brackets.

Not lately, mind you. But it has happened ... in another state ... a long time ago.

As office pools go, I’m sure it was legal. But if not, the statute of limitations has already passed.

But that was then. This is now.

And starting this year, actually Monday, you have a chance to register to legally win a few bucks, and bragging rights, in The Republic’s Bracket Challenge 2014.

The online contest is a first for us, presented by The Republic and VIP sponsors Bartholomew County Beverage, Bradbury’s and Renner Ford/Honda.

The Republic is still planning to publish brackets in print, as readers have become accustomed to, but they will feed into the digital contest, which offers valuable gift certificates and other prizes, including tickets for upcoming Indiana Pacers games and a chance to win the really big bucks as part of a national pick-’em contest.

Like $1 million in prize money.

Got your attention yet?

There are actually two contests.

The traditional one is filling out the bracket with all of the winners at once, from the first round through the Final Four. That’s 63 games.

The second contest gives you a chance to enter and win each round.

Round 1 consists of the Thursday-Friday games during the tournament’s first week.

Round 2 includes those winners who are playing Saturday-Sunday.

Round 3 is the Sweet 16 contest, played March 27 to 28.

Round 4 includes the Elite 8 and the Final Four, including the national championship.

The chances of winning the $1 million national prize are not going to be great, but I doubt entrants are going into this confident of getting all of the games right, even if they have a direct link to the psychic hotline.

If your top-seed national champion choice becomes the first team to ever lose to a 16th seed, don’t fret.

With the round-by-round contest, you’re still in the running. It’s like reshuffling the deck and starting over fresh in a game of cards.

The men’s Midwest Regional returns to Indianapolis this year Friday and Sunday, March 28 and 30, at Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s a neat opportunity for basketball fans who enjoy watching top-notch competition, even if your favorite college team doesn’t draw an Indianapolis invitation.

Of course, there’s a price to get in the door, ranging from $1,000 a seat on the floor to $90 high in the football end zone. If you don’t do well in nosebleed seats, remember to bring a few Kleenex tissues. Mind you, those prices give you a ticket for two days worth of basketball, just in case you were thinking that admission was a little steep.

The national title game will be played this year at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Good luck getting a seat for that one, even if you could mortgage the house.

But when you can be part of the action virtually, picking the winners against friends or strangers, and talking smack in online chat rooms, you can enjoy the NCAA experience without ever being too far away from your desktop computer, laptop or smartphone, without costing you a dime.

Now that’s an entertainment bargain.

As far as our teams go, it would take a “Hail Mary” for any of the big-name Indiana programs to make the field. The Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers are likely to be on the outside looking in.

The Butler Bulldogs, a perennial Cinderella tournament team in years past, is finding life in the Big East particularly challenging in their conference debut season.

Syracuse, Florida, Arizona, Duke. Some of the heavyweights are making their annual runs again this year.

Among the Big Ten, at least five teams are probably going to hear their names called on March 16, Selection Sunday, including Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

But winning a pick-’em challenge also usually requires knowing who the sleepers are going to be.

That’s when teams such as Stephen F. Austin, Wisconsin — Green Bay and Louisiana Tech come into the picture.

There’s no cost to enter the The Republic’s Bracket Challenge 2014, although you do have to be 21.

To register beginning Monday, go to, then follow the prompts for more information on eligibility, rules and prizes.

If the Madness hasn’t hit you yet, it’s about to.

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