Snub Rub

As great as it is, the NCAA Tournament can be even better


March 13, 2007

By Eric Mirlis

Senior Editor, CSTV.com

 



ERIC MIRLIS

Eric Mirlis is Senior Editor for CSTV.com and covers various collegiate sports.
E-mail here!

College basketball analysts and fans have spent their time since the NCAA Tournament field was announced breaking it down, picking Final Fours and debating who got passed over.

 

This year, as always there were numerous teams that had a legitimate claim to a spot in the field of 65, but only based on the parameters set forth by the selection committee. For me, that raises a question that I think needs a closer look.

 

For the NCAA Tournament, should the field be made up of the best 65 teams in the nation, or the 65 that deserve to be there the most?

 

The selection committee is basically caught in the middle of those two trains of thought, but as long as autobids are a part of the process, the NCAA Tournament will never have the best 65 teams in college basketball. We all know that and, to be honest, I hope it never changes. The most thrilling part of this Tournament is watching the underdogs on the first two full days of play to see who can pull off the big upset. From there, we all start looking for the George Mason, the team that comes from what appears to be nowhere to advance deep into play and maybe even, gasp, the Final Four. To remove these teams from the field would be a crime and an insult to the majority of college basketball players and fans that are involved in Division I. Taking that one step further, making two of these teams play each other two days before everyone else simply to earn the right to get thrashed by a top seed is similarly insulting. But more on that later.

 

As long as it is understood that we will never see the best 65 teams, why continue the charade of trying to amass the best field possible? Let's start awarding the at-large bids based simply on who has earned it the most over the course of the regular season. How? Simple. Institute one basic and easy-to-enforce rule that will ensure that a team truly merits the honor of a bid...You must finish over .500 in your conference to receive an at-large bid the NCAA Tournament.

 

If you think about it, that is about as simple as a rule can be, and gets to the heart of who has earned the right to play on. All a team has to do is win all of its home games and steal one on the road (or two or three to make up for any home losses). When you think about it long and hard, is that really so much to ask from a team? Any team that is good enough should actually accomplish this without even batting an eye.

 

Astonishingly, there are four teams in the field of 65 that did not reach that goal. Arkansas, who went 7-9 in the SEC West and really has no business getting a bid no matter how you look at it (a .500 record won their division, so they weren't even good enough for that - and none of the teams ahead of them are in the field), Michigan State, Georgia Tech and, horror of horrors, Duke all finished at .500 or worse in conference play yet received invitations from the selection committee. Remove those four teams, and all of a sudden, there are spots for Drexel (13-5 in the CAA), Syracuse (10-6 in the Big East), Kansas State (10-6 in the Big 12) and Missouri State (12-6 in the Missouri Valley). Simple, no?

 

OK. We know that isn't going to ever be adopted. So, how about this idea: make those eight teams listed above or, if you prefer, the final eight teams under "at-large" consideration, take part in the play-in games instead. This is an idea my friend John Feinstein has suggested on a smaller scale, but let's take it to a level that would make more sense for the NCAA, since it would make them more money (and don't we all know that this is really what all of this is about anyway). Two doubleheaders on Tuesday night for the last four "at-large" spots in the Tournament. Stop insulting the MEACs and NECs of the world (or MAACs, as is the case this season) and give them back that spot in the bracket that they played all season long to earn and that they deserve. Then, clear out the 12-seed line and make those the spots up for grabs, since those are usually among the last four spots filled.

 

Imagine the possibilities and excitement created by these games. Taking this year's field into account, you would potentially have Drexel playing Arkansas for the spot. Rather than debating it in a boardroom or amongst analysts, let's get it settled on the court, where it should be determined anyway. The field would technically be expanded to 68 teams, which assuages those who would like to see a larger field, and, most importantly, the games will carry weight amongst viewers. Not to insult this year's participants in the "Play In" game, but what do you think would be better to watch - Florida A&M vs. Niagara or Syracuse vs. Illinois?

 

Over and over, we hear arguments based on numbers and facts. Who beat who? When and where did they play? What conference is a school in? These questions are asked over and over and over again. Then, when the field is announced, a team like Arkansas gets a bid over Drexel, who went 14-5 on the road/neutral, winning games played at tournament teams Villanova and Creighton, plus at fellow snubee, Syracuse. And the reason for this seemingly is because Arkansas plays in the SEC and therefore has a tougher schedule, while Drexel plays in a "lesser" conference, the CAA. I'm not going to get into other teams that have valid arguments, such as the aforementioned Syracuse, because, let's face it, things just ain't changing.

 

One thing that can't be argued in the debate between Arkansas and Drexel, though, is which team deserved to be there more.