Sorry, not sorry. March Madness needs to change. It’s 2017, and sports matter now like never before, thus making the fluky nature of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament outdated and no longer effective at selling the sport of college basketball.
College basketball has thrived for years off of the sheer excitement and craziness of March Madness. However, nowadays, practically every D-I game is available to national audiences in some form or fashion, and the regular season is very long. Filled with intense non-conference tournaments from early November to late December and even more intense conference action from early January to early March, the regular season slate adds up to over 30 games that are supposed to adequately make sense of the wild world of college hoops.
However, all of that is made effectively moot when March Madness begins, as the nonsensical whirlwind of action that ultimately determines the national champion is based upon the arbitrary seedings made by a selection committee composed of a potpourri of members somehow connected to collegiate athletics. And all of that needs to change.
College basketball is dying in this one-and-done era, and a likely reason why is that the postseason is so tenuous. Putting in so much effort for over four months, only to have the season end in a one-game do-or-die situation on a neutral court is probably not an ideal for a player who could take his talents to the NBA and engage in best-of-seven playoff series. Therefore, the wackiness that is March Madness could definitely be cleaned up a little bit in an effort to make the sport’s postseason tournament more fulfilling.
Take this year’s tourney, for example. The Villanova Wildcats were the defending champions and dominated the Big East all season long, winning the regular season and tournament titles. In fact, no other team in the conference was even close to being as good as ‘Nova. Last weekend, the number one overall-seeded Wildcats came up short in the Round of 32, and their season is now over. Meanwhile, the 11th-seeded Xavier Musketeers of the Big East earned a fairly easy draw for their first and second round action and are now in the Sweet 16. So Villanova, a team that was far and away better than Xavier all year, has seen their great season come to end, but Xavier, a far inferior team, is still playing for a right to win it all. No matter what way you look at it, that’s messed up.
There’s simply too much randomness involved with the Tourney to make it seem fair anymore. Before fans watched college basketball on a nightly basis, March Madness seemed perfect. All of that fast-paced excitement on a nationally broadcast network was the perfect calling card to attract attention. In today’s times, college basketball doesn’t need to draw attention. It needs to somehow lure star players into staying longer, thus preventing fans from losing interest.
As a result, March Madness needs to adopt the same format as the college baseball tournament. Sure, those pointless First Four games can still take place if need be, but beginning with the Round of 64, the basketball tourney needs to be shifted to the layout of the baseball tourney. Eight national seeds. 16 regional host teams. 16 four-team pods that lead to eight super regional contests and an eight-team college basketball bonanza to determine the national champion. And, most importantly, double-elimination each round. That would provide higher seeds with an actual advantage and take away the neutral court effect that plagues today’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, thus weeding out the flukiness of meaningless upsets.
Take Duke, for instance. The Blue Devils earned a two seed in the Tournament this year and were rewarded with having to play the seventh-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks in Greenville, South Carolina, which is around 100 miles from USC’s campus in Columbia, South Carolina. A raucous pro-USC crowd contributed to the Gamecocks defeating the far more talented Blue Devils, thus ending the incredible late-season run of a Blue Devils team that many felt would win it all.
And, no matter what way one chooses to look at it, that’s not good for the sport of college basketball. It’s not good that great teams like Villanova and Duke bow out before the Sweet 16. It’s not good that, in 2010, the Kansas Jayhawks, fresh off of one of the most dominant regular seasons ever, played one bad game against Northern Iowa in the Round of 32 and lost. Most of the Cinderella teams who earn one freak upset get crushed the next game anyway, so it’s fruitless.
The arbitrary seedings and placements are the ultimate factor adding to the illegitimacy of the NCAA Tournament. If Duke were to play South Carolina at any of the other seven venues this past weekend, they likely would have beat them handily. However, they happened to get matched up with them at the only regional site held in the state of South Carolina this season, a regional that was, ironically enough, supposed to be held in North Carolina if not for the controversial HB2 bill.
So the NCAA Tournament format needs to be more conducive for top seeds. They earned as much of an advantage as they can get through their performance in the regular season. Even if the first two rounds were held at the site of the highest seed of the four-team pod, that would help. That’s how the women’s Tourney has been laid out for years now. But the baseball format is the best option because the glaring lack of veterans on good teams is making the single-elimination format seem less and less fair each and every season.
Who cares if it takes away from the madness? That’s part of the problem with college basketball now, anyway. Many so-called “fans” don’t seem to care about the sport from November through February and only seem to get interested when March rolls around, and a major reason why that is is because of the parity that defines March Madness. It doesn’t matter that Michigan was subpar all season long until their amazing run at the Big Ten Tournament. Now, they’re in the Sweet 16. A mere month ago, they were struggling to stay off of the bubble. But it’s March now, and anything is possible.
In conclusion, if college basketball is to cut back on its mass exodus of talent each year, one of the primary ways that it can do so is to make March Madness less mad. The NBA is far and away the most popular sports league with millennials right now, and one of the reasons why is because its postseason is a journey, not a race to the finish line. Best-of-seven series are fun, enthralling and fair. For college basketball, double-elimination and an added element of home-court advantage is the way to go. Because the selection committee makes too many mistakes year after year that effectively skew the outcome of the NCAA Tournament. A team shouldn’t have to play the perfect game to survive and advance. It should have to play the perfect series of games to prove its legitimacy. March Madness is too mad for its own good, and the sport of college basketball is likely suffering because of it. It’s time for a change. It’s time to make March less maddening and more fulfilling. It’s time to come to college basketball’s rescue.