CHARLOTTE, March 19, 2013 — They call it March Madness because the NCAA men’s basketball championship used to be played entirely in March. Now it’s a March/April event and the “madness” has more to do with the NCAA and its selection process than the quality of the field.
What we have is a basketball tournament. What we do not have is a basketball championship. A champion will certainly be crowned, and it will also be one of the best teams in the country. Unfortunately, the titleholder will not compete in an event that in any way represents the most elite field of teams.
No matter how you look at the NCAA basketball tournament, it is a flawed process that has been diluted by an effort to accommodate everyone. Political correctness has filtered its way into college athletics and what we get is an “everyone-gets-a-trophy” mentality.
Before we go further, three elements of the problem must be recognized. First, it is all about money. No two ways about it, dollars drive the tournament and that is a given.
Second, it has to do with recruiting opportunities and prestige, especially for the smaller schools that are trying to develop their programs.
And finally, the NCAA does the best it can with an unwieldy, complex monster that cannot be tamed. It is in a no-win situation.
With those basics out of the way, that does not mean that tournament “bracketing” by the ruling body of collegiate sports cannot be improved.
A close analysis of this year’s brackets has two teams seeded 11th and two teams seeded 13th selected for play-in games. A field of 64 teams wasn’t big enough for the NCAA so it expanded the field to 68. Any rational person would agree that teams competing in play-in games should be the lowest seeds in the field. Not so in the NCAA tournament.
Because of rules that allow participation from conference champions of lesser quality, this year’s tournament features ten teams in one bracket and six in another that are inferior to the squads that have been chosen to play their way in to the main event. In other words, a full 25% of the tournament field doesn’t even belong there.
Which brings us to the bubble: There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament because the powers that be were attempting to include the marginal programs that were just on the edge of being accepted or rejected.
The fact is that if the NCAA expanded its event to 128 participants, there would still be teams on the bubble. The only way to actually eliminate the bubble is to include everybody and that would be a complete disaster.
For all the hype and hoopla of Selection Sunday when tournament teams are announced, no less than 52 of those them will be bystanders by the following Sunday and all but forgotten.
Certainly there will be at least one pair of glass slippers in the Sweet Sixteen, maybe two. Cinderella always gets to the dance, somehow. But in the end, many teams that should have been given an opportunity to compete are already spectators before the opening tip because money, image and rules keep them away.
Once upon a time, college basketball had another tournament called the NIT, the National Invitational Tournament, which was, and still is, held in New York. In those days quality teams that did not make the NCAA tournament would play in Madison Square Garden and the competition was fierce.
Would the NCAA not be better served to return the NIT to its prestigious roots by opening that event up to the also-rans who are little more than cannon fodder for the big show?
The college basketball championship is a single elimination event that basically comes down to which team can put together a six-game winning streak at the end of the year. Unlike the Wooden years at UCLA, even highly ranked basketball teams no longer go undefeated for an entire season.
Why not make the NCAA tournament a double elimination event, featuring the top 32 teams in the country and let the others battle it out in New York? The argument, of course, is that the kids want to play in the big show instead of a little one.
The counter to that, however, is that, as a player, I would rather compete in a tournament in which I have a shot at victory and be a champion than to be a loser in something I cannot possibly win.
With media the way it is today, television exposure might actually give kids that have no chance of being seen in the NCAAs an even greater opportunity to play before a large audience in the NIT.
In the meantime, a team with 20 losses that has no logical reason for being in the NCAA tournament this year will suit up, play and lose while sixteen other far superior teams wonder why they were denied the right to compete.
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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more.
Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.
As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.
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