Friday, December 11, 2009

Expand the NCAA Tournament? Yes, But Only Slightly...

When I visited the ESPN College Basketball web site, I was greeted by one the article tag lines, "Men's tourney could grow, move to cable". So obviously, I clicked on the link and it was article on Andy Katz' blog about the discussions now that Myles Brand is no longer President. Great, the staunchest supporter of keeping the tournament the way it is has been dead not even three months and you have the Senior NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen saying the following;
"We're just in a due diligence phase of examining all of our assets and among those things is men's basketball"
Nice. Well at least Greg and company waited almost three months before "examining" their best asset. And it's a two prong "examination". First, they are considering expanding the tournament field, potentially to 96 teams, including folding in the NIT tournament into it (the NCAA now runs it and has been, let's face it, looking to kill it). Second, they are considering opting out of their deal with CBS and moving to cable?

First, let's talk about that second prong. So if they decide to move it to cable, will it be ESPN...or their own channel? Several conferences now, the Big Ten and the SEC, have their own cable channels. Did you think the NCAA hasn't been considering this? Cmon. They already show Division I, II and III tournaments on their website. And if the NCAA decided to have their own cable channel, don't you think every cable company under the sun would have to carry them if it was known that the NCAA tournament was on their cable channel?

Chances are that they won't create their own cable channel, but with the success of the Big Ten Network and SEC Network, don't tell me they haven't at least thought it. More likely though, they see great possibilities with ESPN. The single biggest complaint I have heard about CBS' coverage of the NCAA Tournament is their failure to cut into other games that may have potential upset implications. Well, that's because they don't want to cut their ratings in those markets. They figure a Syracuse fan in NY won't watch if CBS cuts from let's say Cuse vs. LSU in the NYC region to Western Kentucky vs. Drake because the Hilltoppers are about to stun the Bulldogs.

With ESPN and their family of five networks (oh, I forgot the "Ocho"), you are more likely to get the network to cut into a game with serious implications on ESPNnews for instance. Plus, you can have all four other networks, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN Classic to show the first round games. Yes, there is the DirectTV package where you can watch all the games on. But not too many people have DirectTV (despite the wonderfully funny commercials that espouse them). Thus ESPN makes the most sense.

And if you thought 11 years $6 billion was a lot of money, when the boys at Bristol get involved, it will be all she wrote for CBS.

Now to the second part, expanding the tournament. First, I hear about all the "purists" who want to keep it at 64 (well really 65. More on that in a second). Please. These purists act like it's been 64 teams all along. Those of us who grew up watching college basketball or can look up wikipedia know better. :-)

History of the NCAA Tournament (courtesy of Wikipedia)

  • 1939–1950: eight teams
  • 1951–1952: 16 teams
  • 1953–1974: varied between 22 and 25 teams
  • 1975–1978: 32 teams
  • 1979: 40 teams
  • 1980–1982: 48 teams
  • 1983: 52 teams (four play-in games before the tournament)
  • 1984: 53 teams (five play-in games before the tournament)
  • 1985–2000: 64 teams
  • 2001—present: 65 teams (with an "opening round" game to determine whether the 64th or 65th team plays in the first round)
So for anyone who says they are a purist is either a) born after 1985 b) is older than 25 and has either a bad long term memory or no sense of history or c) just thinks 65 teams is the right number of teams.

I remember quite well when it was 32 teams. Now notice something in particular here. In 1983 and 1984 , there were four and five play-in games respectively. This is going to come into play later on with my recommendation for expanding the Tournament.

Now those who want to change it want to expand it to 96 teams. That would mean a first round with 64 teams, all at large teams, playing each other with 32 other teams receiving byes (perhaps the 31 teams with auto bids plus one). If they stick to the current schedule, that would mean that the Tuesday already setup for the 64-65 play in game would have those 32 games instead.

Geez, that would mean I would have to take three days off that third week of March instead of two. Not a bad thought mind you.

And this would effectively end the NIT tournament which the NCAA took over a few years ago and has been wanting to kill off for sometime. And that's also part of the reason for the expansion of the NCAA Tournament. At one time the NIT was on par with the NCAA Tournament, when there were fewer teams in the NCAA Tournament. I remember vividly Ralph Sampson as a freshman leading Virginia to the NIT championship, which springboarded them to future NCAA tournament success.

So it kills the NIT tournament, what's the big deal?! With 96 teams, more teams would get in to the dance and there won't be any more teams wrongly snubbed out of a NCAA bid, such as Hofstra and Missouri State in 2006, Drexel and Syracuse in 2007, Arizona State in 2008 and Saint Mary's in 2009.

Well here's the problem with that.

1) The NIT is basically the leftovers of the NCAA tournament. Teams that certainly weren't good enough to make the NCAA tournament litter the NIT now. It still does OK, but with a handful of exceptions (more on that in a second), these teams are not NCAA Tournament teams.

2) If you look at the NIT from last season, you had teams that were barely over .500 making the tournament - Washington State finished 17-16 after their first round loss to Saint Mary's and Providence finished 19-15 after their first round loss to Miami, Fla. Why did this happen? Well, CM Newton and his flunkies overseeing the NIT thought teams like Washington State and Providence were better draws than Wisconsin Green Bay and Portland for example, who were better teams (just ask Wisconsin and Minnesota this season).

Do you seriously want slightly above .500 teams making the NCAA tournament? It will turn the NCAA Tournament into Bowl Season. Who wants that. Hey, you're 6-6, you're bowl eligble and you're playing on New Years Day in the Gator Bowl! (yes that was a swipe at Florida State, who has no business playing a New Year's Day Bowl)

3) Even if you expand to 96 teams, you will still have teams that will feel left out, no matter what, even if you are comparing mediocre to mediocre. As per the above example, anybody could tell you that Wisconsin Green Bay was a better team than Washington State, yet the Cougars made the NIT and Wisconsin Green Bay had to settle for the CBI. What's going to be the criteria for 66-96? Will it be the same as the other at larges from 34-65?

Here's a better solution. Expand the tournament to 68 teams. Here's how it will work;

1) The 64-65 play-in game between two low level automatic qualifiers is removed. It's not fair anyway. Both those teams got AUTOMATIC bids to the NCAA Tournament. Why are they playing in the 64-65 game? Why, because the No Clue At All, ie the NCAA, think they don't stand a snowball's chance in hell in beating a #1 seed. But that's not the point. Each team won their Division I conference. They deserve as much as a right to playing the first round of the NCAA tournament, if not more so than an at large that lost in their conference tournament.

You can work the seeds around so that these teams play a #1 seed in the first round and thus accordingly move other teams down. It actually works out that you get probably an even more competitive #3-#14 game in the long run.

2) Then the teams that received at large bids 60-68, which makeup usually the #10 - #12 seeds in the NCAA tournament, play each other for the last at large seed in each region. You can play two games at Dayton and two games at another site.

3) After the four regional play-in games, you then have your 64 teams left as the "purists" want it to be.

This would work better for many reasons. The first that comes to my head is that it's usually only a handful of teams, say two or three that truly get wrongly snubbed out of a NCAA bid. Last season, you could seriously make a case for Saint Mary's, San Diego State and Creighton not making the tournament. It's been like that the last four seasons by my count (see my aforementioned other teams in previous seasons). This way you can get those teams into the play-in round and we can then see which team truly deserved to be in the dance.

Second, you don't water down the NCAA Tournament by expanding to 68 teams. Going to 96 is just serious overkill and really cheapens the NCAA Tournament. Hell John Wooden wants all 300 teams to be in the tournament. I love John Wooden, but that's ridiculous. Why have a regular season then?

Third, in my proposal, only four teams will have played one game before their first round NCAA Tournament game. In the 96 team proposal,. 32 teams would have already played and won one game, which to me is an unfair advantage. That makes it awfully unfair for the 32 teams that got a bye.

Now why are they considering expanding to 96 teams? One word - Greed. Adding 32 teams means 32 additional games - tickets, concessions, sponsorship ads etc etc.

Do the Math. Thirty two more games instead of four more games is much more profitable. That's the only reason for this "examination" of the Tournament. Myles Brand knew it and didn't like it. Some of the purists know it. You and I know it.

By making it 68 teams and an eight team play-in round, it makes Tuesday much more exciting and interesting. The quality of basketball is not watered down. And only four teams will have played and won a play-in game. And I guarantee the Dayton play-in regionals and the other site play-in regionals would sellout in a heartbeat, unlike the 64-65 play-in game now. Not quite the profit the NCAA is looking for, but it's still a profit.

What's it going to be NCAA? Greed or Quality Basketball?

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