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The Evolution Of The March Madness Boss Button

Ups and downs for a white-collar institution.

For years now, the NCAA has offered not only online streaming of its March Madness tournament but also an ostensibly sneaky way to keep your viewing habits from rousing suspicion among the corner offices. The "Boss Button," with a single click, can hide your streaming video and drop down a bland, boilerplate image that looks like nothing suspicious if the boss stops by to ask for numbers on the Jenkins account. And as our society has changed, so too has the Boss Button. Let's take a walk through March history.

2006: The First (And Best) Boss Button


Based on an idea from CBS SportsLine general manager Steve Snyder, the original Boss Button display is still the king, for the simple reason that it doesn't look like anything even remotely related to college basketball. It looks like something that almost anyone in any profession might look at. And CBS unabashedly promoted the feature as something revolutionary, risky, and fun:

"Boss Button" - Afraid management is lurking? No sweat. One click of the "Boss Button" and the live video action on the screen will be replaced by a silent readymade spread sheet!

It's never been better than this.

2007-2008: The Bar Chart Era

Boring, yawn-inducing charts were the order of the day. Dull enough not to attract attention. Not everyone knows how to use or build bar charts, though. Your boss might wonder where your Excel skills came from. (Bonus: the data purported to portray actual food consumption during the 2006 tournament, but that beef jerky figure always seemed dubious.)

2009: The Button Sells Out

After 2.5 million boss-button clicks in 2008, the NCAA moved to make some bucks off this creation, so Comcast came aboard to sponsor the Boss Button, which ceased to look like anything you'd create at work. Instead, users got a blatant Comcast ad with team names encased in colored cells. We can only speculate about all the firings that resulted from this drastic, implausible change.

2010: The Button Goes Artisanal

Despite the clumsy sponsorship, 2009 was another record boss-button-traffic year with nearly 2.8 million clicks. There was early word that the Boss Button might get the Facebook treatment for 2010. But eventually, CBS turned to Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams to pen a custom one from scratch. The result? A boss-button smash-hit, with more than 1.7 million clicks on the first day of the tourney alone.

2011: A New Dawn Of Interactivity

Going back to a more corporate, stale design was a welcome change, and even better was that you could actually scroll through the faux-emails and shuffle around the dynamic elements as if you were actually messing around with your own desktop. As usual, the biggest downside was that the design clearly favored Windows users.

2012: Boring, But Fine

More of the same followed in 2012; the "email" greeting reads more like an advertisement, promoting a new Android app and streaming radio feeds, but this is a solid entry. If only CBS and the NCAA had stuck with it.

2013: The Great Comics Disaster

This year brings yet another interactive, Windows-based email system that updates daily with a refreshed inbox. Early returns are not good. Tuesday's installment was an odd comic about two office drones filling out their brackets, which makes no sense, because you wouldn't be looking at a comic at work unless you are an editor at the New Yorker. Wednesday and today brought us updates from the "CMO," a.k.a. Chief Madness Officer. (Yeesh.)

The takeaway: as always, the Boss Button's early stuff was better, and it's not looking good for this year. Start preparing your own emergency nonsense spreadsheet in case things get any worse.