Expanding The NCAA Basketball Tourney… Is It About The Madness Or The Money?
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. To the American sports fan this time period known as “March Madness” is equal to Christmas, Thanksgiving and The Fourth of July all wrapped up in one. The only exception? This holiday last for an entire month! People all over this nation, basketball fan and non-basketball fan, cast their lots in basketball tourney pools at work, at the gym and in schools. Heck! Even families sometimes get downright crazy over having the bragging rights over someone else for this tourney! That is why the “Madness” is invigorating, refreshing and full of energy. There is also a huge discussion over a lot of teams who would love to be apart of the cray-cray because they got the nay-nay.
There are people who say that expanding the tournament to the “First Four” wasn’t enough of an expansion while there are others who say that expanding the tournament waters it down and makes it unwatchable. Which begs me to ask the question….. if you are a basketball fan….. have you ever watched a tournament game during March Madness that you didn’t enjoy?
While many may say they do not watch the “The First Four” and it detracts from the tourney, the reasons for expanding the tournament should not be because of this. Those first four games of the tournament will have four winners: two will become 16 seeds while 2 more will become 8 or 9 seeds. Four games is really not much of an appetizer for a real tournament especially when they are played two games at a time on two different nights.
I am a believer that if you do it right there are ways that you can improve something for the better. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is one of those things in life that, in my personal opinion, can and should be changed and expanded upon.
Here are my reasons.
Numero Uno…… NCAA Football. Football you say? Really? Why yes… of course. When calculating the football teams who make the postseason in the NCAA for football, the FBS isn’t the only grouping of teams who make the postseason in the NCAA. You also have to count in the teams for FCS who make the playoffs. In the FBS grouping, you have 129 teams of which 42 teams will make the postseason counting the bowls and the college playoff. In the FCS grouping, you have 125 teams of which 24 teams will make an actual 24 team playoff. Altogether you have 254 teams in the NCAA Division group, FBS and FCS, who play football and 66 teams who will make the postseason. That’s around 25 percent of the football teams in the NCAA having a shot at the postseason. In Division 1 basketball you have 347 teams of which 68 teams, or 19 percent, make the tournament. That discrepancy alone tells me that more teams should be allowed to participate in one of the greatest times of the year. To be equal with the football teams making the postseason, it needs to be about 25 percent which means that out of 347 teams about 84 teams (or about 20 extra teams) need to get in. What about money you say? Lets move on to that subject.
Numero Dos……. The moooooolah! Now football is the cash cow for Division 1 football… particularly in FBS. There are also teams who make a few bucks in FCS as well. Football is where the money is at for college sports. Well…that is true to some extent but college basketball isn’t exactly the poorhouse. Why? Because just saying the word “expansion” should be a very strong point for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and you have the University of Maryland – Baltimore County Retrievers to thank for that! If UM-BC taught us anything, they taught us that nothing is impossible. In all those years that every #16 seed came close to beating a #1 seed, the world seemed to change a little when those awesome Retrievers went and retrieved the title of first team ever to set down the team picked to win the entire thing…. those #1 overall seeded Virginia Cavaliers. Oh… and how much did UM-BC retrieve from that tourney win? UM-BC made 1.7 million buckaroos for the America East Conference. The NCAA Tournament makes about 700 million green and crisp dollars in media revenue from CBS and Turner Television for the association itself and its schools. So tell me now that those small schools don’t have or shouldn’t have a voice? Nevada, the school from the Mountain West, made 3.4 million for its conference with back to back wins in the tourney. The money for teams in the tournament is paid out as units for every game that a team plays in. The ACC for example had 9 teams in the field. For every tournament game that every team from the ACC plays in, they get a unit. The more games you play and further you advance, the more money you make and higher the amounts go. Four of those teams made the Sweet 16. Two of those teams, Duke and Syracuse, played in the regional semis which means out of the 9 that made the field, only two teams kept making money and limiting revenue for the conference. Over the years of 2015-2017, the ACC has made more than 100 million dollars in revenue off of these units. Units are paid out annually over a course of six years… increasing in value by 2 to 3 percent. Now while some of these units (that are paid out) make up less than 10 percent of any of the Power 5’s conference’s revenue budget, it means everything for the small money making conferences like the America East and the West Coast Conference among others. For leaders from any of the Power 5 conferences to say that the tournament doesn’t need anymore “small schools” in the field because they can’t compete…… maybe they just do not want to give up more money to them than they have to. But can’t compete? I might have to “growl” at that…. right UM-BC?
Numero Tres………..The One and Dones. No… I’m not talking about teams making the tournament and losing. I am talking about the freshmen who enter the college basketball scene and then leave the next year for the pro ranks. Now you ask the question….what would the so-called “One and Done” athlete have anything to do with tournament expansion? Say what you will…. but people want to see their future NBA stars in action. Who would you rather watch? An 8th seeded Tennessee team with a future NBA star or a team from Georgia Southern seeded 15th with all seniors, juniors and a sophomore and freshman or two. Here is where I am all for expansion. Sometimes you will have a team come into the tournament that is peaking at the right time. I’m not talking about a team like Duke with standout freshmen who were the top 3 in the nation’s class of 2018. I’m talking about a team like VCU had in the 2011 Final Four that was led by Bradford Burgess, a junior, and Joey Rodriguez a senior. Who???? Exactly. No one knew about this VCU team who began the tourney in the “First Four”. People like Dick Vitale, who I miss broadcasting games like crazy, called the VCU pick a travesty… a disaster. Ask the University of Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and the number one seeded Kansas Jayhawks who were led by the Morris twins, Marcus and Markeiff who themselves were 2nd team and honorable mention All-Americans! Kansas was a strong pick to win……….but here came the Rams! Let’s be truthful about this as well….. the Rams truly brought Havoc to the tourney and to the Jayhawks. Teams left out that year? Seth Greenburg’s Virginia Tech Hokies, Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson, Colorado, Boston College, an Alabama team that beat Kentucky and a St. Mary’s Gaels team who beat Gonzaga on the road! How would any of these teams have done with an expanded 84 team tournament? Another feature of these teams who were left out? All of these teams won over 20 games. How would it really hurt the tournament adding another 20 teams? Which leads to my last point of the article.
Numero Cuatro and the finale………… Leaving Out An Upset In The Making.
All the voices sound off…. go ahead and say it, “Expanding the tournament is a bad thing…. smaller teams can’t compete. Smaller conferences do not have the resources to go all the way to the Final Four.” In the words of Charles Barkley…. “C’mon man! Really??!!” Ok…. here is a question to ponder. How many teams that were left out of the tournament in the past 30 years could have made a run all the way to the glass slipper? Think of this…. and let me go back to my beloved UM-BC Retrievers for a moment. The Retrievers were not even the number one seed in their own conference. They had to win out just to make the tourney. Let’s say that in this day and time the tournament “gurus” just take the number one seed and do not have a tourney…. would Vermont beat UVA if they got matched up with them? Most would say no…..but that’s the whole point. UM-BC changed all that in 2018. It isn’t just the smaller conferences either like the America East, the West Coast, the Southern and the Big South to name a few. Speaking of the Southern and the Big South, Furman and Radford has went and throttled a few big guns this year. Now at the end of the year… let’s say that Radford and Furman have the most banner years ever in their program’s history but because of tournament bids and everything…. they get upset and do not make the tourney. Now let’s say the PAC-10 sends 6 teams to the tourney and none win their first round game and none of those teams except maybe two did well in their conference tournament. What is the bigger injustice? Not letting a small school get a chance at making big bucks revenue for their conference or a Power 5 conference getting embarrassed for their showing while leaving out the smaller more deserving schools or bigger bubble schools? It isn’t just the small schools. Great programs like Baylor, Louisville, Marquette, Middle Tennessee, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Penn State, St. Mary’s, USC not to mention a #2 seeded ETSU led by Steve Forbes from the Southern Conference or a #1 seeded Vermont who got upset from the America East Conference tournament. That right there folks looks about like 12 of 20 extra teams that you could send to the NCAA Tourney. Now that the NCAA has the NET, or the NCAA Evaluation Tool, maybe this tournament expansion thing really shouldn’t be that much of a problem. What is the NET you ask?
Here you go.
As stated by the NCAA website, “The NCAA Evaluation Tool, which will be known as the NET, relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. To make sense of team performance data, late-season games (including from the NCAA tournament) were used as test sets to develop a ranking model leveraging machine learning techniques. The model, which used team performance data to predict the outcome of games in test sets, was optimized until it was as accurate as possible. The resulting model is the one that will be used as the NET going forward.
The NET was built to create a ranking system that was as accurate as possible while also evaluating team performance fairly. To ensure fairness, certain types of data were omitted from the model. Of key importance, game date and order were omitted to give equal importance to both early and late-season games. In addition, a cap of 10 points was applied to the winning margin to prevent rankings from encouraging unsportsmanlike play, such as needlessly running up the score in a game where the outcome was certain.”
So what does the NET look like then? In the very first NET basketball rankings here were your Top 10 teams.
Number 1 – Ohio State, Number 2 – Virginia, Number 3 – Texas Tech, Number 4 – Michigan, Number 5 – Gonzaga, Number 6 – Duke, Number 7 – Michigan State, Number 8 – Wisconsin, Number 9 – Virginia Tech and Number 10 – Loyola Marymount.
Now in the most recent ranking put out by the NCAA, things have changed as they should with the season now getting deeper into the year. Your top ten now looks like this….. Virginia, Michigan, Duke, Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Auburn, Michigan State, Kansas, Nevada. The only differences between the A.P. and the NET? Kentucky which is number 9 and Tennessee which is number 7 in the Associated Press poll is number 25 and number 11 respectively in the NET.
The experts can tweak it out how they want but lets just admit the truth. If you put the best 84 teams out there in a tournament in March, you probably will not have to worry much about a “bubble team” not getting in. You probably will not have to worry about a team from a smaller conference (who worked their backsides off all year only to get upset in their own tournament) not getting in.
March Madness will always be that…….madness. Adding 20 teams to this “Madness” will not decrease from it being viewed as a national holiday for one month in America. Actually I honestly feel that it would add more to the tournament. Those little guys who constantly get overlooked…. who want to be the next UM-BC…. they will have their chance. It isn’t just UM-BC either. Remember the Rams from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia during the reign of Shaka Smart? Remember the Bulldogs of Butler University from Indianapolis, Indiana? At the time those were two teams from small conferences with coaches who were also unknown by social media standards. What happened to those schools? Butler went from affiliations with the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10 to a current affiliation with the Big East. The Big East….home of some of the giants of basketball…. Villanova, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s. And the Rams of VCU? Since the 1980’s, they have progressed from the Sun Belt, Metro and Colonial Athletic Association conferences to the now current affiliation with the Atlantic 10 Conference… a major power in itself in NCAA basketball. Oh and what did it do for the coaches? Shaka Smart took his talents from Richmond to Austin, Texas and the Texas Longhorns while Brad Stevens runs the Boston Celtics. So when you say that it is hard for small schools to compete in March Madness? Reread this article and tell me again why the tournament shouldn’t expand to 84 teams and include more smaller schools and the so-called “bubble teams”. So how does one go about solving this problem? I would have every 16 seed spot be a play-in game. I would have every 15 seed spot also be a play-in game. That right there is a chance for 8 extra teams who could come from a smaller conference who could have been upset and did not get their shot at the glass slipper. Ask Vermont if they would have liked a shot in this tournament format. Where do the other teams come from? They come from your “bubble teams”. From this format, I would have play-in “bubble” games for the number 10, the number 9 and the number 8 seeds in the tournament. That is 12 extra teams which should take care of your bubble teams. All told that is 20 extra teams who now have a shot at going to a Final Four. That’s isn’t asking a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.
More teams means more units for conferences big and small. That helps not only the Power 5 conferences but the smaller schools and the conferences they represent who now have a shot at competing for something bigger than themselves against people who many say they would not even stand a chance.
A few more teams being able to prove their worth isn’t going to detract from the tournament that all of America loves. It will only make the love grow… as well as the madness itself.
If you believe that in the grand scheme of things the small teams will never be able to compete with the big dogs, I will go online and I will find you the biggest University of Maryland-Baltimore County basketball poster I can find and mail it to you. Heck… I may even make a Ryan Odum for President poster for you. I’m sure I know a few Retriever fans who may agree with me!
In leaving out those teams who deserve a shot at the big dance…. whether they be conference champions upset in their tourney or the ones who won 25 games and played in a conference where it was knock down drag out and still got nothing for their wares…. that itself is the travesty. To knock out those teams who just want….maybe need that one shot to go out and see how they can do….. competing against those teams who are seen as the Goliaths of college basketball… that right there is in itself…. madness.
Just not the kind of madness that we want for March.