March Madness Gets a “C” in Fairness

Like three of the four major professional sports, the NCAA basketball tournament does not re-seed its field at least once during its postseason (only the NFL does so among the four pro sports).

Obviously, re-seeding after every round in the NCAA tournament is a total non-starter, since doing so would cause havoc with the travel itineraries of the teams involved.

But there are two junctures at which re-seeding could, and quite frankly should, be done — the Sweet 16, and the Final Four.

In this year's tournament, in only two of the four regions will the highest surviving seed be playing the lowest surviving seed in the regional semifinals (i.e., the Sweet 16) — the West Region, to be held at San Francisco's Chase Center, home of the NBA's Golden State Warriors (poor Oakland — they lost first the Warriors and then the Raiders in the space of one year!), where Gonzaga, the 1 seed, with take on Arkansas, the 4 seed, while second-seeded Duke will face third-seeded Texas Tech in the other regional semifinal; and the East Region, to be contested at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, home of the NBA Sixers, where the highest-seeded survivor, third-seeded Purdue, will indeed play the lowest seeded survivor, 15th-seeded Saint Peter's, with the second highest surviving seed, No. 4 UCLA, meeting the third highest, No. 8 North Carolina, in the other semifinal.

In the South Region, on the home court of the San Antonio Spurs, the AT&T Center (not to be confused with AT&T Stadium, also and perhaps better known as "Jerry World," where "America's Team" plays, and has a hole in the roof only when its retractable roof is open — albeit an increasingly frequent occurrence in recent years), the semifinals will consist of top-seeded Arizona having to play the fifth seed, Houston, while second-seeded Villanova will get to play 11th-seeded Michigan.

Shouldn't Arizona be playing Michigan and Villanova be playing Houston instead?

But the most grossly unfair scenario will take place in the Midwest Region, at the United Center in Chicago (making it four "Centers" in the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight!), also the home court of an NBA franchise (the Bulls), where the "reward" that top-seeded Kansas will receive is to be forced to play fourth-seeded Providence in one semifinal, while 10th-seeded Miami of Florida and 11th-seeded Iowa State go at it in the other semifinal.

Oh, but isn't seeding "subjective"? No more "subjective" than the process that is used to determine who gets in the field and who doesn't — ask Texas A&M, who by any objective standard is at least 15 points better on a neutral court than the likes of Texas Southern and Wright State, who did get in (the Aggies have advanced to the NIT quarterfinals, giving ammunition to those who believe that the selection committee did indeed make a mistake by snubbing them).

The major virtue of re-seeding is that it makes both the regular season and (especially) the conference tournaments that much more meaningful: teams that are essentially assured of qualifying for the NCAA tournament at the end of the regular season are a lot less likely to dog it in the conference tournament (and savvy bettors can take advantage of this if they can figure out which teams are most likely to somnambulate through their conference tournament games), armed with the knowledge that doing so could force them to play a more formidable opponent in the Sweet 16.

And what possible reason is there to be against it?

Please, don't hand me this business about what it would do — or what those in Rio Linda, West Palm Beach and Staten Island think it would do — when it comes to these ubiquitous contests: any online contest can be programmed to take re-seeding, in both the Sweet 16 and the Final Four, into account — and maybe it would make some future President think twice before showing off his "brackets" (or her "brackets" — imagine if a President Hillary Clinton had done that?), like former President Barack Obama so ostentatiously did.

As for those who do not have Internet access at home — because they are paupers, or Luddites, or both (oh my!) — they can always go to their local library, at no charge, to participate, if it really means that much to them.

And how would re-seeding cost anyone any money — the be-all-and-end-all of everything these days? By contrast, giving the team with the better record home-field advantage in the Super Bowl, elementally fair though it might be, would nonetheless be a huge net revenue loser for the NFL and its multi-billionaire owners (boo hoo!).

Perhaps it is time to create a new Cabinet-level post — a Secretary of Sports, as it were — to offer up non-binding (of course) guidelines, based strictly on what policies maximize fairness among the competitors in the various sports.

Paraphrasing something that Rosie O'Donnell once said: the Marquis of Queensbury — Google it!

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