Off Beat

Great Minds Think Alike

OCCASIONALLY OFF BEAT grows weary of reading the daily papers, the endless onslaught of dismemberments, stadium proposals, and stock-market crashes. So it was a pleasant surprise to come across this eye-popping invitation in the Star Tribune: "Win $1,000,000. Play Star Tribune 'March to a Million.'" All Off Beat needed to do, it seemed, was to correctly pick 60 of the 63 winners in the NCAA men's basketball tournament--which, in case you've been comatose for the past month, culminates Monday in Minneapolis. Sharpening our pencil, Off Beat got to work. After several hours of careful consideration, we finally scribbled in the Monmouth University Hawks to win the big dance. (Never bet against New Jersey!)

Later, as we were perusing our copy of the Pioneer Press, we came across this headline: "Pioneer Press Presents...Take a shot at $25,000." A piddly $25,000? Not worth our time. Must be part of that fiscal belt-tightening at Knight Ridder's St. Paul outpost.

Interested to learn if anyone else had been dumb enough to pick Monmouth to go all the way, we called Tom Rainey, cross-promotions manager at the Strib. According to Rainey more than 5,000 readers entered the competition, though he wouldn't tell us how many picked whom. The newspaper has held NCAA tournament contests in the past, he says, but not on this scale. "Here, we're having this in our backyard, let's blow this out big," he explains of the rationale. "There's something about offering a million bucks that we kinda like doing."

Of course, offering a million bucks is a far cry from paying out a million bucks. And the Star Tribune has no intention of doing the latter. For one, the odds of anyone correctly picking 60 of 63 games are minuscule. (A fact the Strib ought to know: Two years ago they printed an item about a similar contest, noting that a Harvard professor had pegged the odds against picking a perfect 63 of 63 picks at 100 billion to 1.) And for another, the paper undoubtedly purchased an insurance policy to guard against that unlikely eventuality. Rainey declined to spill the relevant beans, but a spokesman at Sports Contest Association Promotions of Dallas--a firm that specializes in precisely this sort of "risk management"--says they'd charge $12,500 to insure such a contest.

Anyhoo, all this talk about prizes has got Off Beat's blood a-pumpin', so we've decided to stage a competition of our own: Any reader who correctly predicts the top four teams in the 2001 National Collegiate Women's Rowing Championships, which take place May 24-26 in Gainesville, Georgia, wins a City Pages T-shirt. All entries must be received by May 21. Send to City Pages Rowing Madness, 401 Third St. N., Ste. 550, Minneapolis, MN 55401.

Now if you'll excuse us, we've got to call our insurance agent and take out a policy.

Now Departing: Vanguard Airlines

OFF BEAT CAN'T help but root for the underdog. So the news that the Kansas City-based Vanguard Airlines Inc. is giving up the fight in the Twin Cities market touched our hard heart. But what we really wanted to know was: What the heck is Northwest Airlines going to do with that fellow they were paying to sit in the terminal and count Vanguard passengers? (See Burl Gilyard's "Head Count," in the November 18, 1998 issue.) Alas, Northwest spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert tells Off Beat that the company long ago scrapped the headcount strategy. Intones Schubert: "We are not nor were we recently counting the number of passengers that were boarding Vanguard." Is there no bright side to this story? It would seem there is not, especially if you have a penchant for flying to Kansas City: Vanguard's presence in this market kept fare prices in check, but as of April 1 that's history.