Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"First Four"? Guess It Beats "First Forty Eight"

On Monday, the NCAA announced the format of the now 68 team tournament.  Four first round games will be played.  Two games will be played by the lowest seeds, the lowest four "automatic qualifiers", and two games will be played by the last four at large teams.  The two winners of the lowest automatic qualifier games will be the #16 seeds in their respective region, similar to the play in game for the past several seasons.  Meanwhile, the two winners of the at large games will be either a number 12, 11, or possibly even a 10 seed depending on how the regions are seeded with automatic qualifiers.  However, both those teams will have the same seeding.  The NCAA has already come up with the marketing name  for these four play-in games - "First Four".

The games will be played either on Tuesday or Wednesday, with Dayton the likely destination for this year's game.   The NCAA did say they would look at other sites in the future.

I guess you could say the NCAA went for middle ground on this.  Though the idea had been floated about, mainly by Andy Katz, the most likely scenarios had either been the last eight automatic qualifiers playing the "First Four" play-in games.  Or the other most likely scenario was the last eight at large seeds playing for the lowest at large seed in each region, the scenario I preferred.
The reaction from the college basketball writing community was decidedly as mixed as the First Four format.
  • Jay "Hit or Miss" Bilas stated on his blog - "If it is to be 68 teams (which makes no sense out of the gate), it will be inequitable on some level unless the last eight automatic qualifiers play for the right to play the four No. 1 seeds."  Another miss for Bilas.  He really hates mid major teams, doesn't he.
  • Pat Forde had a decidedly different and I believe correct take - "But here’s what I would have liked more: The last eight at-large teams playing for four spots. That would produce either a reasonably interesting quadrupleheader, or a pair of reasonably interesting doubleheaders. And it would have removed the small-conference champions completely from playing in the Stepchild Round."  X gets the square, Pat.
  • Andy Glockner had an interesting take on the decision - "By choosing a model that involves a pair of play-in games between the final four at-large teams in addition to two others involving the four worst auto-bid winners, the NCAA chose the solution that causes the least amount of change. The net impact on the main 64-team bracket is almost nil. After the "First Four" is over, we'll have one additional at-large team making it at the expense of one auto qualifier."  
  • Gary Parrish will not be making any new friends in the SWAC or Big South with his comment - "... the First Four will include the final four at-large teams, which isn't exactly what I wanted, but I'm willing to compromise. I wanted the final eight at-large teams to battle it out in Dayton for the right to enter the conventional 64-team bracket because I would like to be interested in what are unofficially play-in games. That just hasn't been the case in the past because I couldn't care less about watching the SWAC champion and Big South champion play for the right to be murdered by the ACC champion."  As Richard Belzer would say "Ouch, babe." 
  • Kyle Whelliston wasn't happy with the decision (Kyle wanted the four automatic qualifier PIGs due to win shares - ie money for the winning conference team and their conference) and had two classic quotes via his Mid Majority Twitter account -
    1. 1) "Can YOU think of a simple thing needlessly complicated by design-by-committee? (BCS doesn't count!)"
    2. 2) " The "First Four" is a "compromise"? The committee could definitely have tried harder to please everybody, e.g. by giving out free puppies."  Well I do like puppies, Kyle.
  • Joe Lunardi was the happiest with the hybrid model - "...the hybrid model of "First Four" games involving automatic qualifiers vs. automatic qualifiers and at-large selections vs. at-large selections is a fair way to recognize the importance of conference champions while at the same time adding overdue sizzle to the former opening-round games."
Finally, if you didn't see my support for Mr. Forde's comments, look at the end of my article here for what I would have wanted.  Also, as for the marketing name, First Four?  Sounds like a undercooked variation of the Frozen Four in NCAA Hockey. Ugh.

By the way, in a poll this week by SportsNation, 55 percent of the people wanted the final eight at large teams to play the four play in games, aka the First Four.  So much for giving the people what they want.

Thus, outside of Joe Lunardi, no one got what they really wanted.  So for the NCAA, affectionately known here as the No Clue At All, this next Youtube clip is for you all (especially for Dan Guerrero and Greg Shaheen).

The bright side to all this - at least it's not "The First Forty Eight", which is what it would have been had the NCAA expanded to 96 teams.  At least everyone universally agrees that would have been a horrible idea.  Ricky Nelson could have sung to that Garden Party.