Finally. Buffett offered his billion. The conference tournaments were as exiting as ever. Selection Sunday yielded the same heartache and controversy as it does every year. But finally, the madness is here and is in full swing. With this post, I’m not going to talk about who got snubbed from the tournament. I’m not going to splurge my bracket predictions for you guys because frankly, I do not like them, but again, that’s for a different post. I’m also not going to talk about all of the upsets that occurred over the past few days.
As I mentioned in a previous post, college basketball is like no other sport. Once the regular season ends, every team gets another chance to make and win the NCAA tournament. For most teams that means winning your conference tournament. The old motto is “win and you’re in”. However, with the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 68 teams, this hasn’t been the case. Yes, all 32 conference winners are selected for the field of 68. But each year, four teams that have won their conference are selected to play in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. (On top of that, four other “at-large” teams are selected to play in the First Four as well)
The First Four (also considered the “first round”) was created when the NCAA expanded the field to 68 teams. It shouldn’t be considered a round though. The Round of 64 will always be the first round (until the NCAA decides to expand the field even more). The First Four is a set of play-in games to see who can earn another the final four spots in the NCAA tournament. And relegating conference tournament champions to these games is ruining the integrity of the tournament. Look at this years tournament. I bet most of you didn’t even know the NCAA tournament began on Tuesday. And if you did, I can guarantee you could not tell me who played in the 16 vs. 16 games that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. I bet you don’t even know what channel truTV is. And even if you could name the winners, there’s no way you could tell me who lost without looking at the bracket you have in your hand. But I’ll guarantee you know who Coastal Carolina or Weber State is. Texas Southern and Mount St. Mary’s never got the chance to experience the tournament. They didn’t get the chance to beat a one seed like the other 16 seeds get to do. They get to go home and watch it from their couch. Even the winners of these play-in games get shafted. Albany did not get to practice on a real court from the time their game ended Tuesday night to the time they took the floor against Florida yesterday. They had to make a basketball court in the ballroom of their hotel with trashcans and duct tape. A conference tournament champion doesn’t deserve that.
For most people, nothing seems wrong with this situation. Two teams that are slightly below average knocking one or the other out of the tournament. It keeps the tournament exciting and the talent level high. That may be true. But it is not the NCAA tournament. This post is not against the First Four. I like the First Four. I even like the idea of expanding the tournament further. But the First Four should not have any conference tournament winners. The First Four should feature the last eight teams off of the bubble and selected into the tournament. It would increase the quality of the play-in games and it would make them traditional play in games. Following this strategy would also make the regular season and who you play in the regular season much more important.
Think about it, this year the match-ups in the First Four would have been the two games that already occurred NC State vs. Xavier and Tennessee vs. Iowa. The other two games would have been the last four teams that got into the the tournament before the four already listed. These teams would have included BYU, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Dayton. Now this was a really rough guesstimate of who the teams could be and depending on how the committee is feeling these could be changed.
Unfortunately, this is all speculation and wishful thinking on my part. The NCAA would never change this. The tournament is no longer about the spirit of the tournament. The tournament is about money. Having two 16 v. 16 play in games will make the most money in the long run. Hopefully the NCAA will see the err in their ways before all of the play-in games become conference champions playing one another, but I don’t think they will.