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Be prepared for bracket mania

Two things to remember in the next week: 9.25-quintillion and the fine print.

NCAA bracket contest spam is already finding its way into many fans' e-mail in boxes, touting any number of tournament challenges with paydays that make your local office pool (shh) seem like the $31 jackpot that it is.

One easy ploy is the get-everything-right lure. If you correctly pick the winner of all 64 NCAA games, you'll go home with $1-million, or $10-million, or something along those lines. The odds, for anyone so naive and/or confident as to aim for this, are staggeringly long to stay perfect beyond even the first day of competition.

One figure tossed about online for the chances at NCAA perfection is 1 in 9.25-quintillion, which is basically 9 followed by 18 zeros. A quintillion, for reference, is the estimated insect population of this planet, or slightly more than Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson's new contract with the Arizona Cardinals.

Another more conservative estimate was 100-billion to 1, and as I pointed out last year, if you're correct 75 percent of the time, it's really only 8.2-billion to 1, but the point is to forget that total and go back to buying lottery tickets.

That brings up another key to enjoying Internet NCAA contests: enjoy the warm weather in Florida, but don't expect to be eligible to win. The Florida Legislature has language that prohibits winnings from games of chance, and these hey-is-it-Winthrop-or-Siena deals do count as games of chance. Sportsline.com's contest specifically mentions Florida residents as being ineligible, and ESPN.com's settles for "where prohibited by law."

That's not to say you can't enjoy the contests for bragging rights. You're ineligible to win, but not to participate, and before you get down about the odds, 218 people in ESPN's pool last year nailed the Final Four correctly. That's 218 out of 1-million, but still, it's a nice crowd. And 20 percent of ESPN's entrants last year correctly chose Maryland as national champion. And last year's ESPN winner, from that basketball mecca of Omaha, Neb., used his $10,000 to remodel his bathroom and fix his four-wheeler.

One more contest we'll mention: Unless you're a Lightning fan with a grudge, sunshinenetwork.com has a Pick 64 game for the sixth year in a row. The contest is free and the grand prize is a 36-inch TV.

RUN, SWIM, B

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