Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Got 96 Problems but the Tourney Ain't One

I love college basketball. Like love, love college basketball. But as I was watching Villanova somehow lose to a suddenly hot-shooting UConn team last night (quick aside: Why did Jay Wright leave Scottie Reynolds — the only player who was doing anything offensively — on the bench so long in the second half?) and Kansas hold off a very game Texas A&M squad, I thought, "Soon, games like these won't be nearly as fun."

If/when the NCAA decides to move the NCAA tournament field from 65 to 96, games like last night's won't matter as much. Had Texas A&M beaten Kansas last night, there's a good chance it would have punched their ticket to the big dance. Add 31 teams to the mix, and a team that was ranked No. 22 last night doesn't need that victory. It's pretty clear they're one of the best 96 teams.

To me, what makes college basketball so great isn't just the tournament, which is hands down the single greatest tournament in sports. What makes college basketball great is that a school's entire resume matters. From the start of the season to the finish, you have to be impressive enough to have a chance at a title. And if you're a borderline case, you risk losing that spot to a surprising conference champion, a team that would never had made it without winning its conference tournament. It makes for an exciting lead-up to the big dance. It creates drama. It creates tension. It creates excitement.

Sure, some teams that were on the bubble and may be more talented get left out, but that's their fault for not winning quite enough games, for not scheduling quite enough good teams, for not convincing the world that they're as good as they think they are. It makes the regular season matter, not just for seeding, but for a chance to dance. Add 31 more teams, and frankly, it diminishes the significance of the regular season.

There aren't 96 good teams in college basketball. There just aren't. So essentially, every half-decent team will make the tournament. Every single one of them. Fewer and fewer Cinderellas will make it to the ball, because the conference tournament champions won't be sneaking in as much. For the most part, the teams that win the conference tournaments are at least bubble schools, or teams that are second, third, maybe even fourth in small conferences. Add 31 teams to the mix, and chances are those top 2 and 3 seeds in each conference will make it, or damn close to it. The excitement just won't be there.

That's not to say it will affect the tournament itself too much. There will undoubtedly be more blowouts in the first round, as teams that have no business being there will get destroyed by the highest seed. I mean, the No. 1 overall seed is going to take on the No. 96 seed? Really? That's how this is going to work? Terrible. But from there, the tournament will go on as planned, go on as usual.

But the regular season will be lacking. Sure, it will still be fun and still be meaningful for seeding purposes, but much of the drama will dissipate. The regular season will become nothing more than a glorified preseason. And that's a shame. But when it comes to the NCAA, it's all about money.

When you think about it, how funny — or infuriating — is it that the NCAA is doing everything in its power to add more teams to its basketball playoff, and seemingly can do it extremely quickly, yet continues to do everything in its power to prevent any sort of playoff in football?

That's the NCAA for you. It's trying to fix an NCAA tournament that's not even remotely broken — or cracked for that matter. Yet it won't dare to try and fix a completely flawed, broken, destroyed way to crown a football champion. Leave my tournament alone, because I love it just the way it is.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. what I've heard in the past is with the 96 team structure the top 32 teams would get a bye and the remaining 64 would play the first round, so you wouldn't have #1 playing #96.

  2. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. I still don't like it.

  3. This legitimately scares the crap out of me. There's nothing wrong with the tournament as it is. Hell, I'm already not a fan of the play-in game, so if they expand the field, it'll truly kill it for me. I pray this idea never becomes reality.