CHARLOTTE, NC, March 18, 2014 – The “Everybody-Gets-A-Trophy” syndrome has invaded college basketball and watered down one of the great sporting events in the country. Political correctness disguised as greed has made a mockery of college hoops with a bracket system that looks like it was designed by Mr. Hyde after Dr. Jekyll drank the Kool Aid.
Sixty-four teams were not enough for the NCAA so they added a play-in game several years ago to make one of the bubble teams feel better. That worked for a brief time, but then it was decided to have four play-in games so that three more teams wouldn’t get their feelings hurt.
Now, in 2014, we still have four play-in games, but three of them come from the Midwest Region and one will be played in the South. Sixty-eight teams featuring 8 squads that have absolutely no chance of winning the tournament while playing in some convoluted schedule will begin playing on Tuesday.
OK, so it helps recruiting at smaller schools that don’t get much exposure. And yes, it supposedly lets more athletes be able to tell their grandchildren they played in the NCAA tournament when they are in their 60s.
But let’s consider some other aspects of the tournament as it is now configured which diminishes the final product in the name of “progress.” Four teams, Iowa, Tennessee, Xavier and North CarolinaState are seeded either 11th or 12th in the Midwest bracket. That means that those four schools are regarded as better caliber teams than 10 other universities which are ranked below them. In other words, four schools are being penalized for being better than 10 other teams by being forced to win their way into the field of 64.
How much sense does that make?
Of course the answer is that, the 10 teams that are rated beneath the four play-in schools are not as good as the others. If THAT is the case, then why are they even in the tournament?
Anybody who follows college basketball knows that Cinderella lives in the lower half of the seedings for one or maybe two games every year. They always become bracket smashers and the darlings of the country until reality sets in and, in the end, the Final Four still consists of a set of the best teams in the nation.
The truth is that the lower 36 teams have no business even competing in the tournament in the first place. By the end of the first weekend, all the hoopla and speculation of who will make it and who won’t will be reduced to 16 teams. That means that 52 teams will be eliminated between Tuesday and Sunday and nobody will ever remember who they were. That’s a promise.
Why diminish one of the country’s greatest sporting events into a three ring circus? Here’s a suggestion, which has no chance of ever being considered but would certainly make the college basketball playoffs more interesting.
Rather than continuing to expand the number of teams playing in the tournament, why not reduce it to a field of 32. True, that means a bunch of games are eliminated which also theoretically means lost revenue. Ahh, but the key word is “theoretically.” Making the tournament smaller means that regular season games now become more significant which also means that some of those lost dollars can be made up by highly visible conference match-ups that might become make or break contests when NCAA selections begin.
Then take the remaining 32 or 36 teams, if you want to keep those ridiculous play-in games, and allow them to compete in a revitalized version of the old NIT. The reward for those teams is twofold. First they would have a legitimate chance to win the tournament and, second, the players would be able to say they played in a national competition in MadisonSquareGarden in New York.
In this day and time, the money generated would still be sizeable and the players would have the satisfaction of playing in an event they could actually win rather than being cannon fodder in March Madness.
Sound crazy? There is precedent. In 1976, UNC Charlotte was an up and coming college basketball program Under first year coach Lee Rose, the 49ers would have qualified for the NCAA tournament as it is now structured.
Instead UNCC did not make the NCAA field, but they were invited to play in the NIT.
The invitation was huge. Charlotte, NC was giddy with anticipation. In 1976, there was no NBA team in the city. The Carolina Panthers did not exist. NASCAR was the only major league sport in the region and, for the most part, regional college basketball teams lived in the shadow of the ACC.
In the end, Lee Rose’s team finished second in the NIT and Charlotte was in an uproar. Had UNCC played in the NCAA tournament, they would have been just another also-ran.
But here is the real kicker. The following year, UNCC was good enough to make the NCAA tournament. The previous year of experience made them stronger and, though they were heavy underdogs throughout the NCAAs, they were competitive and did make to the Final Four.
Marquette won the national championship that year by first beating UNCC and then defeating the the North Caolina Tar Heels. Fans who attended the tournament in Atlanta that year, and there were many since two North Carolina schools were in the finals, will recall that UNCC actually lost their semi-final game because of a bad call by an official with just minutes left to play. While that point is moot, it does emphasize the fact that UNCC could have been playing for a national championship had the gods of good fortune gone their way.
Odds are that that scenario would not have happened had it not been for what was then a better college basketball format.
In the end, the NCAA system wasn’t broken but they still tried to fix it. Sometimes good things are better left alone and untouched. The NCAA Final Four Tournament is one of them.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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