I’ve followed with interest the case of University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel. He was fired last week for participating in an NCAA basketball pool, which is against NCAA regulations. His infraction and firing have gotten saturation media coverage (mainly because everyone knows he’s had it coming for quite some time). However, every article seems to miss the most important piece. Neuheisel’s defense is that the University of Washington had given its coaches permission to participate in pools, which was wrong anyway, since it was illegal according to NCAA rules.

The catch here, and what hasn’t been reported very well, is that Neuheisel was not participating in the sort of pool that most people are familiar with. I wonder if journalists know that? Usually an NCAA pool involves everyone picking the winners of every game in every round in the tournament, with the pot going to the person who picks the most games correctly. From what I’ve read, I get the sense that Neuheisel was in the sort of pool that serious gamblers participate in. It involves basically investing in a single team, and I’m not entirely confident in my understanding of the mechanics of the betting or how the winnings are awarded. The bottom line is that if he’d participated in a regular old pool, he’d probably still have his job.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure that Neuheisel’s pool was conducted using Calcutta-style betting. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good clear explanation of how it works on the Web. (It basically involves auctioning off teams and then paying out from the proceeds of the auctions according to how the teams do in the tournament. A few years ago, a mail room clerk on Wall Street got in hock hundreds of thousands of dollars in a Calcutta-style NCAA tournament pool, because in that pool people traded shares in each of the teams once the tournament and he made a number of bad trades with money he didn’t have.)