It starts tonight, the 2008 NCAA Men’s basketball tournament (the play-in game between Mt. St. Mary’s and Coppin St. with the winner having the dubious honor of playing North Carolina on Friday). And a lot of money is going to be lost. No, not just by most of the bettors, but by employers whose employees will be focusing more on the games than on work.

However, according to a recent survey by the Lincoln Retirement Institute, a research arm of Lincoln Financial Group, employees will be spending more time thinking and planning for retirement than focusing on the tournament. Their survey indicated that 72% of those surveyed will spend less than one hour in making their picks while 87% said that they will spend up to 5 hours in March thinking about and planning for retirement.

But if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Jim Challenger’s view. Mr. Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, Inc., estimates that the NCAA basketball tournament could cost employers $1.7 billion in wasted work time over the 16 days business days of the tournament. His estimate is based on 37.3 million workers in office pools and 1.5 million watching games online at their desks.

More time spent, I would guess, than checking 401(k) balances online.