I listen to a fair amount of sports radio. We have 1600 ESPN Radio just down the hall here, and I am a little bit involved in helping run it, so keeping an ear on it is a good idea. I also just generally enjoy sports, and enjoy hearing it discussed.
As we get set to crown a college basketball National Champion, there is a lot of talk about expanding the NCAA Tournament from 64 (or 65 if you count the ridiculous play-in game) to 96 teams. There has also been a fair amount of discussion about the merits of re-seeding the teams as the tournament progresses so that it is more likely that the highest possible seeds are around to play in the championship game. I don’t see the appeal in either idea.
I love the NCAA Tournament. It’s a couple of the best weeks of the year, when I go from not caring one bit about ButlerUniversity to being a HUGE FAN! (I think if they win I’m going to win our friendly little radio station pool. Go Bulldogs!) It’s almost perfect as it is, save for the stupid aforementioned play-in game.
The argument for re-seeding the teams comes from teams like Butler and Michigan State (both #5 seeds) facing each other in this the penultimate round, while #1 Duke faced #2 West Virginia. Proponents of the re-seeding feel like both Duke and WV should have faced one of the #5s in this round, which would make it more likely that they would each win and then face each other in the championship game.
To me, there is nothing more all-American than the underdog fighting its way forward and knocking off the big boys, and I for one won’t stand for an attempt to make it easier for the bully to win. Look, Butler has already knocked off a #1 (Syracuse) and a #2 (KansasState) in order to get where they are. If we’d re-seeded in this round, they’d have had to knock off two #1s and two #2s to win the whole thing. Why is that fair? The supposed big boys on their side of the bracket both got their butts kicked by Butler, and Butler still has to knock off another #1 in Duke to win the championship. Butler has beaten the last 25 opponents they’ve played. They’re a damn fine team. Just because a bunch of suits in a room thought they were a #5 instead of a higher seed they should have to be handed a tougher road than they’ve already had. Harrumph!
Now let’s switch gears and talk about this atrocity of expanding the NCAA Tournament field to 96 teams. As you’ve gathered by now, I love a good underdog. What I don’t love is the creeping socialism of allowing a bunch more mediocre teams into the tournament field just so more people can feel good and say “We made the NCAA Tournament this year.” Well whoopee. In that size field, How does letting more worse teams in improve the product, exactly? There’s a reason no one cares about the NIT tournament anymore. That’s where all of these “great” teams we want to let into an expanded field go. Nothing like watching the sixth best team in the SEC go toe-to toe with the fifth best ACC team; why do they want to make the first week of the tournament the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl?
What I haven’t heard is anyone discuss the most important reason for not expanding the field to 96: How the heck are they going to get a bracket of 96 teams onto a single page for the most important component of this whole thing—the very reason that anyone cares—the office pool? The 64-team field fits nicely on a page, though even to make that fit the typeface has to be pretty small on those team names. Can you imagine shrinking it another 50% as we add 50% more teams? Sounds headache inducing to me.
So please, Dear NCAA, do not foist upon the public a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. You have an event right now that is just right as it is. Is there more short-term profit in expanding to 96 teams? Probably. But you’re risking taking your fabulous event and making it too long and too watered-down for anyone to care about. Someone with sense please step forward with a long-term view. Please.