When the NCAA basketball tournament kicks off this week, even non-hoops fans in the IT world should take note.

Experts with San Diego-based Websense warned administrators last week that March Madness is increasingly accounting for huge spikes in bandwidth usage and drops in employee productivity. Last year the tournament attracted a 473 percent increase in traffic to NCAA websites, when comparing unique visitors in February to March, according to figures from ComScore. Because much of the tournament occurs during work hours, those visitors typically view these sites on business machines.

Websense also cited ComScore statistics that found Sportsline.com drew 82 percent more traffic last March and ESPN gained 34 percent more visits. All indications point to as many or more visits during the tournament this year -- since March of 2005, sports-related websites have grown traffic by 61 percent.

As these websites offer more advanced content such as streaming game coverage and highlight video clips, workday visits on company systems will have measurable affects on bandwidth. Additionally, some employees may be opening their organizations up to undue risk by visiting many of the online gambling sites associated with major sporting events such as the NCAA basketball tournament.

In order to balance the happiness of rabid hoops fans with the safety of the network Websense recommended using web filtering software to limit the amount of time spent on sports sites and to block bandwidth-intensive files such as streaming video.