Quick Bit: An NCAA Tournament of 90 or more teams would make March Madness — and the sport in which it crowns the champion — far less popular. So why bring it up?
There are so many wonderful proposals from the NCAA Division I transformation committee that were released in its official report Tuesday afternoon, so many designed to make life as a college athlete better and more rewarding than it already is, and necessarily more secure.
And I’d probably write about them here and tell you about how wonderful they are, if the members of this committee had not gone and offered a reckless proposal that threatens the prosperity of the event that makes much of NCAA athletics possible.
And I quote:
“Following months of discussions by the Transformation Committee’s Championship Subgroup, informed by input from the Division I Council and the Division I Competition Oversight Committee, the Transformation Committee urges the Division I Board of Directors to thoroughly review, fully consider and, where appropriate, swiftly act on the following: Accommodate access for 25% of active Division I members in good standing in team sports sponsored by more than 200 schools.”
If it’s not clear what that means, allow me to do the math for you. There are 363 Division I men’s basketball teams currently included in the NCAA NET rankings. (Hartford’s only around for a bit longer, but their descent to Division III isn’t going to help.) According to my iPhone calculator, 25 percent of 362 works out to 90.5. And that means if the committee’s recommendation were adopted, there would be 90 teams or more in future NCAA Tournaments.
The recommendation is not binding. Television partners Turner Sports and CBS, which soon will be contributing more than $1 billion a year for the rights to March Madness, will warrant a say in the matter. And others in the decision-making process may recognize the destruction this proposal would visit upon college basketball and work to prevent it.
Some behind the proposal have the best intentions: to allow more college athletes to experience the glory of the postseason. It sounds nice in theory. In reality, it would siphon that glory from those whose performances merited such a reward and, instead of sharing it with more athletes, allow it to disappear into the late-winter air. There won’t be glory because fewer people will become invested in such a bloated, farcical endeavor.
The 37 editions of the expanded NCAA Tournament have demonstrated to us 64 teams is an ideal number to stage a captivating championship tournament, but the 2,375 March Madness games played since 1985 have proved there aren’t any teams being excluded that are capable of winning the championship.
Only three teams seeded outside the top four in a region claimed the title: No. 8 Villanova in 1985, No. 6 Kansas in 1988 and No. 7 Connecticut in 2014. So 92 percent of champions entered the tournament as one of the top 16 teams. Stuffing No. 22 seeds into the field isn’t going to change that.
What it would change is not only the appealing urgency of the three NCAA Tournament weekends but also the season-long competition to enter the March Madness field. There would be little consequence to any regular-season game. The mainstream media voices who belittle college basketball as a “one-month sport” – they say this to justify ignoring it from November through Selection Sunday – would see their declarations come true.
Here’s how we know:
Twice a week for Fox Sports, I compile projected NCAA Tournament brackets from the last week of December through Selection Sunday. As part of that process, I am asked to include the eight teams that came closest to inclusion without making it. That takes us to 76 teams. Last year, that 76th team was Colorado, which finished the regular season 21-11 but lost six of its seven toughest games and lost five times to teams that didn’t even make the tournament. So it couldn’t beat the best teams it played, but it were vulnerable against the least. Nothing about that says it merits contention for a championship. It has made plain it’s not qualified.
In a 90-team tournament, those Buffaloes don’t sweat inclusion in the least. Their meager performance would get them in easily. With that many teams, we would legitimately have been considering whether 17-16 Clemson belonged, or 17-15 Cincinnati or 19-15 Oregon. Or would there have been a taste for a team with a losing record but better power rankings, like 14-17 Kansas State?
What would be the incentive to pursue excellence during the regular season, beyond “You play to win the game”? What would be the incentive to attend a game during the regular season, beyond “Well, it’s a day out”? What would be the incentive to watch a game during the regular season – and don’t say “there’s nothing else on”, because most everyone has one or more streaming services to assure that never can be the case?
The contract with CBS and Turner runs through 2032, so perhaps we have another decade of bliss before anyone takes this recommendation and uses it as a weapon against the college game.
When dangerous ideas penetrate the discourse, though, one never can be sure of their impact. If only the committee had been wise enough to leave this one unmentioned, we could be talking about their proposal to provide medical insurance for at least two years after the completion of an athlete’s career, or the one about offering educational subsidies to anyone wishing to pursue a degree within a decade of their last game, match or meet.
It’s too bad. The committee members made their choice.
Originally found on Sporting News Read More