Editor’s note: WRAL Local Tech Wire has added another feature with the launch of the "Innovation Exchange." Noah Garrett, former executive director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, is a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, who recently launched his own communications consulting firm. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that – creating a Web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

Participate in the Exchange. Send ideas and feedback to: noah@thinkngc.com

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – This just in college basketball fans; every single NCAA men’s game during March Madness 2008, except for tonight’s play-in game on ESPN, will be streaming online for the first time in history. Shhh … don’t tell the boss.

As games play out during a typical workday, the number of staff calling in sick or "working from home" seems to be at flu-like levels. Bosses fret over their staff’s early departure and late returns from a long lunch. And, CBS is adding fuel to the fire making it even easier for fans to log on to any game airing during office hours.

All 63 tournament games from 13 cities nationwide will be shown online for the first time without blackouts. The network also is dropping registration requirements for the March Madness on Demand video player and arranging for direct links from more than 200 websites, including ESPN.com, SI.com, Yahoo! Sports and Facebook.

My father used to take off the entire month of March. No kidding. He saved all his sick leave and vacation time from the fiscal year (granted he had a government job and was allowed to do such acts back in the day) and would watch every single game on television. It is hard to imagine if my dad was still alive what he would do with the Internet this time of year. It’s truly mindboggling.

On the flip side, employers are taking more steps than ever to monitor your productivity and work ethic during the NCAA tournament. This means, if you’re not careful, you may lose more than just your office pool this year. Also, there is concern at small and midsized businesses that widespread viewing of live streaming video of games by employees will slow, or crash, computer networks.

Many of my corporate engineer buddies said March Madness is the single most dreaded event due to bandwidth and productivity concerns. Network administrators sweat when they see network traffic spike as staff takes advantage of the technology and find websites streaming the games and highlights. Security administrators begrudgingly configure their content filters to block ESPN and other websites to prevent staff from constantly checking scores and updating their pools.

Yep, you just might not have ESPN or CBSSportline at work come tomorrow. If you don’t, let me know how that makes you feel. But, please keep the company you work for anonymous; no one needs to know that. We’ll post comments next week in the Innovation Exchange.

So, if you’re like many of the millions of fans who follow college basketball this time of year, the question is not whether you’ll be spending time checking out the scores – or even the games themselves – but how much of your workday will go into the task.

Economic experts are predicting all the office time spent following the games over the next several weeks could add up to more than $1.2 billion in lost productivity. The estimate is based on the assumption that 22.9 million workers, nearly 20 percent of the work force, will spend an average of 13.5 minutes a day following the games and updating their brackets (or tearing them up).

Ahh … Gotta love March Madness! Now get busy filling out those brackets.

The IE would love to hear your basketball predictions and comments. Keep this threat alive!