I didn’t want to have to do this, but they made me. This is not the first or only rant on the inadequacies of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, but I need to get something off my chest. Sunday evening, the committee was exposed for what it is: A know-little, uppity collection of dunces.
I previously imagined this group of athletic directors meticulously formulating every scenario possible in their hotel suite. My vision of the suite was not unlike that of the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” The most powerful people in college basketball making decisions that would impact the world. Well, I guess now that I think about it, that vision wasn’t too far off. Like the generals in “Dr. Strangelove,” the athletic directors rushed to decisions and drew conclusions that didn’t make much sense. For more, please refer to Exhibit A: the West bracket.
Even when you ignore the well-documented travesty of giving Gonzaga a No. 6 seed, this bracket is still a mess. It is more stacked than Anna Nicole Smith. The West includes the major conference tournament winners Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Arizona. It also includes Atlantic 10 champion Xavier, the aforementioned ‘Zags, as well as Hawaii and Wyoming – arguably the best teams in the Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference, respectively. Four teams are in the top 10 and eight in the Top 25. In addition, the West includes preseason favorites UCLA and Missouri, each of which has the talent to reach the Final Four. In all, I would say nine of the 16 teams in the region have a legitimate shot at making it to Atlanta.
Exhibit B is the exclusion of Butler from the field of 65. Does the committee truly believe that this team doesn’t belong? The answer of course, is yes, because otherwise the Bulldogs would be dancing. Butler has proved its worth with a near upset of Florida two years ago and by embarrassing Indiana in last year’s tourney. And at 25-5, Butler was the team with most wins to be excluded. The moral of the story? Don’t get punked in your conference tournament.
But above all, the most egregious errors on the part of the committee are the recent changes made to the actual tournament – reworking the locations within regions and the addition of the play-in game, played two days before the rest of the tournament.
The goal of the rearrangement of regional locations is to reduce traveling in order to increase fan attendance and avoid sending Maryland teams 1,000 miles away.
In theory, this is a good idea. College students should be able to attend their team’s games if they make the tournament. (Excuse me while I dry my eyes). But the unfortunate result is that a few teams are privileged enough to essentially play home games.
California makes the trek to the “South” region to play Penn and potentially Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh. The games are not at the Panthers’ home arena, but it is safe to say that there will be fewer California fans in attendance.
Illinois, which plays its big-time matchups at Chicago’s United Center, makes a return trip for the tournament, surely to the chagrin of Florida and San Diego State. Texas also benefits by playing its first two games in the heart of the “Midwest” – Dallas.
The “quads” or “pods” have no basis by region, as Sacramento hosts Midwest and South games, but no West games. Similarly, Dallas does not host any games in the South region. While the idea is to give an quad to the higher-rated team, No. 4 seed Ohio State is still sent to Albuquerque while No. 10 seed Pepperdine stays in California.
Where previously teams were rewarded by playing in their region, now the titles are in name only until the Sweet Sixteen.
Tonight’s play-in game is truly awful. Alcorn State and Siena fans rushed the court when their team earned the right to play in Dayton, Ohio, site of one tournament game. The idea of the play-in game is make room for all of the conferences winners, but I would rather see a lower at-large major conference team get the boot. It is tough to make an argument that either of the two play-in teams are better than the sixth-place team in the SEC, but the early game takes away from some of the luster of the tournament.
What makes the first weekend of the tournament so great is that basketball is played all day for four days with the only break for the evening news, if you care about what is going on outside the tournament.
Hopefully Siena or Alcorn State fans will again rush the court if their team wins and finally makes the final 64 teams.
The committee likely had the fans’ best interests in mind when making its decisions, but the changes have lead to the possibility of a Strangelove-esque, apocalyptic end to what we all love about the NCAA Tournament.
Jeff Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.