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    Monday, March 19, 2007

    "Fixing" the NCAA March Madness Tournament

    Every year during March Madness, amid the amazing games, comes the reason we say
    "madness" in 'March Madness." Someone wants to change the system.

    Can't people just leave well enough alone?

    I think people are barking up the wrong tree. The tournament is fine as it is. Each team has 30-odd games to prove themselves, and a conference tournament. Eventually, there are 31 conference champions and 34 at large births. You have a committee of very well versed people that sit down, look at the whole body of work, and pick those 34 at large teams. Sure, sometimes they must split hairs, and occasionally they're going to make a mistake, but most of the time they're going to be pretty accurate. For those 2-3 teams on the cusp that get left out in a given year, here's my advice: Play better next year. Another win here, a harder scheduled opponent there and things would be different. Ultimately the onus falls on your shoulders to execute, and you didn't. Unless you go 30-0 and get left out, you have SOME blemish that is very real, and potentially very worthy of causing people to think you aren't among the best 34 non-conference champions in America.

    Can't people just leave well enough alone
    Those who want to change things (uhhhumm Jim Boeheim), typically point to those last cut teams as proof that things need to be expanded. Well, Syracuse, I might be inclined to agree that you're stronger than Alabama, but it was close. All you had to do was beat Notre Dame in your final game and you wouldn't have had that issue. Or maybe not let go of Villanova, when you lost 75-78. Or what was the loss to little ole' St. John's (60-64)?

    When I was a freshman in high school I had my heart set on playing on my high school's basketball team. I played basketball daily--loved it. Tryouts came around. I did the sprints. I shot the free throws. I ran the drills. Names were called and cut boys headed to the locker room. That was day one. I came back for day two, and day three.

    At the end of day three coach gathered all of us sweaty freshman around him. He had varsity full and put one of us on JV. That left 15 boys for 12 spots on the freshman team (yes, I was at a big high school that had three teams). One by one, twelve boys had their names called, until I and two others were left--cut.

    It hurt--sure it hurt--because those boys playing ball were the ones I played with every day after school at the park. It hurt because I felt he picked players he was more familiar with--those who played AAU. It hurt because I felt I was good enough to be out there with them, but I wasn't. However, I came to realize that I had nobody to blame but myself. Of course a coach is going to pick a known quantity over an unknown quantity (that's the same reason a medical school residency program will pick a medical student with lower grades from in house over a graduating student from another medical school). Moreover, if I wanted him to know I was a good basketball player, I could have run a little harder, shot a little better, practiced a little more at nights. If I had truly stood out, I wouldn't have had to worry about having experience with me, or sweating out the cuts. But I didn't take care of my end of the deal.

    So, Syracuse, do what my old girlfriend used to tell me:

    Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.

    I mean, you wouldn't want a computer doing the picking would you (a la NCAA football)?

    Now that I've just pontificated about why things shouldn't be changed, I'm gonna give you my thoughts on how to change them (sounds dumb, huh?). The two main issues I see with the current tournament format are:

    1. Some good teams get left out because the tournament doesn't include more teams. These "cut" teams want an expanded tournament.

    2. Smaller conference champions get embarassed having to play the "play-in game" between seeds 64 and 65. The don't want to be in such a game since they took care of business and won their conference.

    My solution is so easy, that should the powers that be actually do the stupid thing and tweak the tournament, they'll never institute it. I propose that:

    • All conference regular season champions be issued automatic invites to the dance. They proved they were the best team from their conference over 16 games.

    • All conferences should hold a conference tournament and the winner, if not the same as the regular season champion, should be invited to the tournament. Each regular season champ still plays in the tourney because they want a good seeding by the committee. In most smaller conferences, the regular season champ and tourney champ are often the same team, and the benefit for a regular season champ of winning the conference (seeding) will outweigh tanking to guarantee the conference two bids, so those "one-bid" conferences will--in all probability--stay so. In stronger conferences, the regular season champion is less assured of winning, and it effectively gives the conference a second automatic bid--up for grabs for the teams like Syracuse.

    • All remaining at-large teams, from 34 to 3 (if no regular season champ won their tourney), would be selected by the committee and seeded as usual. This is not far different from now, because most sportswriters admit that there really are only 5 or 6 bubble spots truly available after the conference tourneys are over.

    • Make the "play-in" game between the two lowest seeded at-large teams. This allows for a potentially more enjoyable game, because the at large teams could be playing for a 14 or 13 seed, and rewards those teams who won conferences/tourneys to bypass the indignity of being forced to play another game.

    Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it
    These suggestions will effectively turn the conference tournaments into the extension of the NCAA tournament that people wish for. With potentially two automatic bids up for grabs in each conference, you have double the reason to perform during the season or go for broke in the conference tourney, and half the reason to gripe. Also, the change in the play-in game can happen regardless of the other changes and still bring the benefit outlined.

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    xanghe said...

    wow! How do you truncate your posts so effortlessly? What a great idea - if I ever start writing really long long posts like you I'll start doing that, too. Or maybe if I just have a thought I'd like to insert into body of the text... hihi

    xanghe said...

    Actually, I don't comment much so I haven't looked into the comment script that much. Now your displaynoneinline is intriguing to me because I'm actually changing the text node of the object with getElementById. Anyway, I think I'll convert once I learn a little bit more about display. :)