The NCAA Tournament Is Already Broken

By Marcus Shockley

Seth Greenberg NCAA Tournament

From all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that erupted on Selection Sunday this year, you’d think that the very fabric of justice had been ripped asunder by the NCAA Selection Committee. Analysts, writers and coaches ranted about the inclusion of certain ‘bubble’ teams and the exclusion of other teams and said that this year, the committee “got it wrong”. Even Jay Bilas, a fantastic basketball analyst who I greatly respect, lashed out at the selection committee members.

A gaggle of writers angrily shouted their frustrations over Twitter, claiming that the committee had no justification for their actions and that they had no idea what they were doing. Several prominent radio personalities launched their Monday morning shows with tirades against the selection committee’s choices. Said Mike Greenberg, “this is the first year where you hear the experts just flat out say, ‘they got it wrong’.” Whereas in past years, it seemed that the experts might have some slight disagreements with the committee, this year they were simply saying that the teams that were picked should not have been in the Big Dance.

Not one of these writers or experts, not even the aforementioned and highly esteemed Jay Bilas, seemed to notice the reason for the sudden change. Why would there suddenly be so many experts stating that the selection field was so wrong, when for decades they’ve been proved right?

Why, indeed.

Could it be that none of these media personalities want to share the truth? After all, their bosses, the corporate television networks supported by ad revenue, need for the tournament to matter, so it’s not like they can tell us the real problem with all of this.

Why, exactly, are we arguing over whether one ‘bubble’ team got a tournament invitation over another, when everyone knows that these teams won’t be around for long? Why do the experts point to a team with ‘x number of wins over Top 50 teams’ or ‘had two quality wins’. Really? Since when did a win or two over a Top 50 (not Top 10, not even Top 20, but Top 50 ) somehow make a team qualified for anything other than the NIT? Everyone knows that the reason they are saying ‘Top 50’ is because they may have beaten a team that was, at one point in the season, ranked at a very arbitrary number 35 or 45.

The tournament is busted, and the hard truth is that none of these ‘bubble’ teams deserve a bid. We as fans have fretted for years that the NCAA committee would push for expansion until they broke the Law of Diminishing Returns, the same law that causes sagging NBA regular season ratings and weeks of subpar NBA player performances.

Simply put, the NCAA wants to add as many games as possible, because they think that will create more product and more revenue. If they push too far, like the NBA and MLB have done, they will stop making significant revenue growth and won’t realize it until the ratings are halved and stadiums for early round games are marginally filled. This isn’t a doomsday scenario; this is exactly why teams in the NBA play to arenas that have more empty seats than a kazoo concert. For every packed house in the NBA, there are 20 that aren’t, and why the NBA started actually kicking around the idea of contraction earlier this year.

But this isn’t about the NBA and how poorly they handled the expansion of their season; it’s about how the NCAA committee is doing it to the college game.

The NCAA tournament needs to cut some of the invitations, not expand. I don’t expect them to; I expect them to continue down the path of silly business, making only slight gains in revenue growth, until 10 or 20 years from now, there are more than 96 teams in the tournament and the lowest seed has a .500 record from a low major conference. I realize that the college game I love will be gone; This week’s selection hammered it home.

The tournament should be slashed to 48 or 50 teams. Maybe, 54. But at least 14 berths should be axed now. I don’t want to hear any more braying about bubble teams. Those teams shouldn’t be in the NCAA tournament. None of them.

You want to get into the NCAA tournament? Do this:

  • Win your conference regular season OR your conference tournament
  • If you don’t win your conference, have at least a 75% winning percentage
  • If you have a 75% winning percentage, you’d better have a decent SOS against teams with an RPI higher than 45 for the ENTIRE SEASON
  • Don’t have double digit losses. If you do have double digit losses, you’d better win your conference tournament.

I am so sick of hearing about the coaches who might lose their jobs because they don’t make the tournament. You want to make it better for them? Cut the number of teams that get in, don’t increase it. If you continue to increase it, it becomes so easy to get in that not making the tournament is a sure bet to get fired; after all, even mediocre teams and coaches get in, right? If you decrease the number of invitations, the bar is set high enough that not making the tournament for a couple of years is not grounds for immediate dismissal.

Spare me the bubble teams. Just send them to the NIT where they belong and actually might accomplish something.

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