Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fitting in the “Final Four”

By Jean Neuberger

The NCAA is expected to announce this week their new format for the Division I Men's tournament, as March Madness now welcomes 68 to the party. The options that have been tossed up are putting the bottom eight teams or last eight at-large teams in the tournament into play-in games, or placing a mixture of both at-large teams and automatic qualifiers.

Let's hope the NCAA chooses the second of those options.

Placing the last eight at-large teams is the most fair and logical option in this tournament. I know my friends in the SWAC would vouch for me here. Is it really fair that Arkansas Pine-Bluff wins their conference, but really "didn't" earn a bid into the Big Dance until they went to Dayton, Ohio and knocked off Winthrop (another automatic bid holder)?

Since the NCAA established the "play-in" game, the SWAC champion has been sent to Dayton five times. That sullies the traditions of what March Madness is all about. Every conference gets a team in the show. And, despite most of the smaller conferences not going deep in the tournament (save the Horizon's Butler, of course), each conference champion should be automatically eliminated from play-in game contention.

So what do you think would happen if the lowest eight seeds went into play-in games? Basically, it'd mean eight conference tournament champions would get to enjoy Dayton. No offense to Dayton, but that's not what these teams were looking forward to.

Mixing up the teams wouldn't work either. Make the tournament simple: put the true bubble teams on the hot seat. Does a team with a near .500 record in a major conference really deserve a free ride in? Let's make these teams that are clawing at the last second claw for forty more minutes.

Furthermore, the question arises as to what seed the play-in winners should earn. Since we've ruled out the bottom eight teams, we obviously can't choose the 16 seed. Most would lean towards the 12 seed, but tend to disagree on this. What did the fifth-ranked seeds ever do to get 12 seeds that are so under-ranked?

The answer? Put them in the nine slot. Make the bubble teams earn their keep. They get to play a fairly tough play-in game, take on a decent team in the next game, and then take on the top seed.

We'll see how things turn out next week. If history precedes itself, the NCAA will probably take the most controversial route. However, if they choose the right way, March Madness might have made a great move in adding those four last invites.

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