Monday, June 13, 2011

Mega March Madness: An Introduction

I'm not a guy who spends a lot of time worrying about how popular he is (because that would be depressing), so it's easy for me to not have to sugar coat ugly truths in fear of hurting people's feelings. For instance, you may not think that sentence is an appropriate opener for any Xavier-related article, but I don't care. For another instance, I'm about to tell you that I'm here to combine a couple of things that very few people enjoy: Mondays and the idea of expanding the NCAA basketball tournament.

Artist's rendition of a person who remembers the original format.
I'm not as old as say, some of you (I'm assuming) or my dad (obviously), so the NCAA tournament has always been a 64-team affair to me. Even with the ridiculous "play-in game" brought about in 2001 and the even more ridiculous "first round" instituted last season, you're not in the real tournament (by my high standards) until you hit that Thursday-Sunday stretch of games. Other people probably have other standards; some might have enjoyed the 32-team format, or even the original 8-team set up. Perhaps you are partial to the 53-squad layout of 1984. It hardly matters. The point is that the NCAA tournament is evolving and expanding inexorably, and it probably always will.

The core of the NCAA's reasoning is simple: more games equals more TV. More TV equals more ad money. More ad money... well, it's more money. For purists, of course, this is a borderline nightmare. The goal of a postseason tournament is, ostensibly, to crown as victor the best team in the nation. Single-elimination tournaments are notoriously random though, so most people watch to see two things. One is an underdog knocking off a highly-favored team; if it's a nationally-loathed program like Duke or your favorite team's nemesis, so much the better. The other is - obviously - to see your own team meet or exceed expectations, even if this doesn't necessarily mean winning it all.

As the tournament continues to expand - and it will, I promise - it continues to decrease the chances of the best team winning while increasing the chances of the NCAA making an even more absurd amount of money. It also devalues the regular season, as a team that romped through its schedule finds itself needing just as many wins as the 17-15 Southern Conference tournament champion. It also runs the risk of making the opening round(s) less compelling, as Duke takes on St Francis, PA in a thrilling 1-32 matchup. The point is, the tournament won't stop expanding, and there are a lot of pitfalls to be found if they don't do it the right way. Next Monday, I'll show you what doing it the right way looks like. The Monday after that, I'll show you how that would have played out in the 2010-2011 season. Those may end up spanning up to a total of four Mondays, but I'll wrap the whole thing up with a Monday of final thoughts. By the end of the series, you'll be looking forward to both NCAA Tournament expansion and Mondays. Maybe.

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