Thanks to a federal judge's decision, sports betting is still illegal in New Jersey.
But try keeping the high-stakes wagers out of NJBIZ Brackets, the tournament that pits Garden State executives against one another as they root on their almae maters.
In a battle between attorneys, Duane Morris' Paul P. Josephson is leading his alma mater, Michigan, into Atlanta on Saturday, where he'll face off against Syracuse grad Christine Amalfe, of Gibbons P.C.
They're playing for pride, for bragging rights — and for $200, which the loser will donate to the charity Autism New Jersey.
For Amalfe, the pressure is even greater. There's nothing she'd like to see more than to have the NJBIZ Brackets trophy return to the Newark firm; in the tournament's inaugural year, Gibbons' Fred Alworth, a UConn graduate, cut down the nets.
"I think I'm going to be holding a trophy," Amalfe said.
"We're in good shape. I am very confident. I think the team is playing great," she said. "They are playing great defense. I think we're going to win — I think we're going to win it all."
Amalfe expects to be up against Louisville in the final, which she noted would be a rematch from the Big East tournament, "where we lost to them. But I think we will get our revenge."
She has watched nearly every minute of every game so far: "Part of last Saturday's game I listened to the radio, then I watched the highlights." On Saturday she will be visiting her daughter at Colgate University. "We will find a TV," she said.
Josephson also is confident in the team, and even though the school is football crazed, he's been a hoops man since attending the school in the mid-1980s.
The whole world knows about Michigan football, but "basketball was a much bigger part of the school for me, because the team was getting good and it was really exciting to watch them getting good," he said.
Josephson graduated from Michigan in 1987, which he called "the beginning of a new era" for the school: "They were going from being a football powerhouse with a sleepy basketball program to where you could tell the team was really stepping it up. They were doing some great recruiting."
Those building years of the '80s led to the program's glory years, when it reached the Final Four in both 1992 and 1993. "All the groundwork for that was laid during the years that I was at the school," Josephson said. "It was some really fun and exciting basketball to watch."
Josephson said he's seen several of the games this spring, and has watched the tournament closely. "When you're a Michigan fan, you get a little used to our teams not doing as well in playoffs or bowls as they're supposed to." That all seems like ancient history now: "It was just a lot of fun to watch the Florida game."
Saturday, though, will be a bigger challenge.
"I don't think we can take Syracuse for granted. They have been playing great basketball, and it's going to be a real tough challenge," he said. "But I think Michigan showed in the Florida game that they are up for the top teams."
On Saturday night he will be helping run a charity event for the Princeton Charter School, which his children attend. After the gala, he'll head off to a bar in Princeton to catch the end of the game with several friends from college.
As to the Autism New Jersey bet, it's an extension of the work Josephson and his wife, insurance attorney Jodi Bouer, have done; they've fought to secure health insurance coverage for families with children on the autism spectrum.
He said his wife's practice is "largely devoted to representing families to get coverage and helping providers who provide services to kids on the autism spectrum get proper reimbursement from the insurance companies," while Amalfe said it "is a great charity, and this is an issue that affects our employees and friends and neighbors."
Suzanne Buchanan, Autism New Jersey's interim executive director, is happy to be in the middle of the Final Four. "We are thrilled to be their charity of choice," she said. "These are hard times for everyone, including nonprofits, and with autism prevalence increasing as it is, our services are needed more than ever."
'Hard to watch'
The other showdown pits Louisville, represented by another attorney in Daniel Flynn, against Wichita State, cheered on by Cindy Farley. For Flynn, with Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis, in Woodbridge, his team's last game was tough to watch, as Kevin Ware went down with a gruesome leg injury.
"It was pretty hard to watch," he said. "It may have looked like this was a big rallying point and it inspired them to move forward — but they were devastated. They were on the floor, literally crying. Ware pulled them over and talked to them, and they started to pull it back together. But it wasn't like they came out firing away. They missed a number of shots in a row, and it really took them a while to get back on their game, which they eventually did and won by a big margin against a very good team."
Now Louisville moves forward, and despite the loss of Ware, "they are still a solid team and they have as good a chance as anybody."
As to Saturday's game against Wichita, "I don't know much about them, but they've got to have something going for them to get this far," he said. But he expects to move on, and hopes for an all-Big East final again Syracuse.
Farley, manager of retail operations for Hess, in Woodbridge, might have something to say about that. She'll be glued to the TV at a South Jersey sports bar for the team's Final Four appearance.
"I watch a lot of college basketball, and during March Madness I definitely get more involved in it," the 1999 graduate said.
Farley grew up playing basketball and earned a full scholarship to Wichita State. But she was sidelined, first by an injury, then to become a part-time student to care for her sick father. But she still tried to attend as many of the Shockers' games as possible.
"It was always a full stadium, and it was a great atmosphere," she said.
Though she's not sure Wichita State has what it takes to make it all the way, Farley is thrilled that they have made it to where they are.
"I got all my friends to jump on the bandwagon," she said. "It's good to see a team and a college that doesn't get much recognition make it to the Final Four, but it's not going to be easy for them to win. They don't have many tall players, and most of Louisville's players are tall. They have some challenges but I think they can do it."
Contributing: Mary Ann Bourbeau
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