Breaking the “Bracketology” bubble!
Most every reporting media that follows college basketball has its designated “guru” of what has become known as bracketology (NCAA Bracket). Call it the art of picking the field of the NCAA tournament. What teams are in, what ones are left out, all leading to immediately after Selection Sunday the pundits in the sport debating over which teams got snubbed. Well let’s debunk that process shall we?
First of all, let’s set the rules. Automatic qualifiers to the NCAA tournament are selected by awarding every conference an invite to its champion. Currently every Division 1 conference but one has a season ending tournament and the winner is the recipient of that auto-bid. That amounts to thirty one conference tournament winners and the regular season champion of the Ivy League (the only conference not hosting a season end tournament). The advent of holding season ending tournaments began with the success through the years of the ACC tournament begun in 1954 and the format has today become additional revenue to every conference with TV contracts and sponsorship no matter the attendance figures. So don’t plan on seeing any changes on that front.
In debunking the bracketology theory the first thing that must be understood is that other than the Ivy League EVERY team in division 1 men’s basketball is already in the tournament. Perhaps if the Ivy held a tournament we could put to rest that teams are slighted in anyway in making the field of 68. The bottom line is no matter your favorite team’s regular season record all have the chance of redemption by virtue of winning their conference automatic bid. In reality, if the Ivy ever decided to play a tournament not one eligible team would be left out of the opportunity to win the Division 1 men’s championship. Bottom line, not one team other than those not winning the regular season championship of the Ivy has a reason to say it was snubbed.
In reality the conference tournaments serve as the first round of the overall NCAA tournament. Perhaps the Ivy has it right in not hosting a tournament. Then again, as a collective group, the endowments of the Ivy schools are huge and the potential of the Ivy League developing into a basketball conference powerhouse of high RPI/BPI schools is nil. Awarding an at large bid to any of its teams will most likely never occur. The Ivy has never had an at large bid and recent league champion Cornell was its first champion to reach the Sweet 16 in over 30 years.
What makes the NCAA tournament so fascinating is that every team no matter its regular season has a shot to win at the end. Already in the early stages of championship week we have seen Coastal Carolina, Belmont and the University of Northern Iowa win their respective conference tournaments, yet none of them went into their ending season tournament as the conference number 1 seed. The fourth automatic qualifier, the University of North Florida, is going for the first time in school history, no offense to all you Northwestern grads still waiting. This is what makes March Madness so special. Even the Ivy League is having a one game playoff as Harvard and Yale will battle for the title and the auto bid after sporting identical records this season thanks to a basket by Dartmouth with less than a second left against Yale this past weekend.
Then we have the debate over the at large selections. While some teams such as Wichita State of the MVC or others like them will warrant at large consideration because of their schedules played schools such as Murray State of the OVC, Charleston Southern of the Big South and other conference regular season champs won’t be considered for at large selection while power conference teams such as Texas, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, UCLA among others this year might.
To be fair to the smaller conferences, the NCAA should institute an open date in each season that it will match certain teams from the historically one bid conferences against selected teams whose conferences typically receive a bulk of at large bids. What we might learn is that Murray State and Charleston Southern both number one in their respective conferences are very capable of beating a Texas team that currently sits in 6th place in the BIG12 or an Indiana that sits in 8th place in the BIG10. The NCAA began a concept called bracket buster games a few years ago. However, those games pitted for the most part a mid-major program against another mid-major. The games themselves while entertaining proved nothing.
Matching up “mid-major” programs such as St. Mary’s versus Tulsa or Temple versus Boise State does nothing to create separation. However, matching at the tail end of the season the top mid major conference leaders of historically one bid conferences against a power conference school that finds itself languishing in the 4th through 6th place standing but in a historically multiple bid league is a whole different matter. How could a 6th place Texas if beaten by Murray State or an Indiana beaten by a Charleston Southern towards season end be upset when not attaining an at large berth? Then again if a Murray State or Charleston Southern after playing the bulk of the season could not beat the 4th to 6th place team in the power conferences it should not expect an at large bid if it does not win its own conference.
If head to head match-ups and out of conference schedules ultimately determine the final at large teams selected and indications from members of the selection committee is they do then games such as these towards the end of the season would be fantastic. Games such as these would be good for college basketball in every way. Unless, the NCAA is worried that teams such as Texas or Indiana that have throughout the years proven TV appeal, fan bases that travel and produce tournament revenues while the Murray States of the world might not is a determining factor ? However, if that indeed is the case then perhaps the NCAA and the Presidents of the Universities can explain again publicly their views of why education must be placed above athletics and again why it is not about the money but the student-athlete experience first?