Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Make March Madness More Mid-Major

We don't usually comment on sports topics since there is an entire separate blogosphere devoted to all sports all the time. But every now and then we get a thought we just have to get off our chest.

With March Madness (Go Hoyas!) upon us, we're struck by the annual controversy over a few teams that feel they shouldn't have been left out, as well as the perennial debate over whether more teams from the "mid-major" conferences should get a shot at the title.

The NCAA should adopt a couple guidelines to help tame some of the controversy. First, no team should qualify for the tournament unles it finishes either (a) in the top four of its conference's regular season standings, or (b) in the top four in its conference season ending championship tournament. We'll call this the Top Four rule. After all, the measure of true success in the NCAA Tournament is whether you finish in the Final Four. If you can't even make your own conference final four, why be invited to the Big Dance? Such a rule would also give "bubble" teams clear guidance on what they need to do to get in: not in your conference's top four at the end of the season? Then you'd darn well get into the semi-finals of the conference tournament.

Second, no more than six teams should be taken from any conference. (Theoretically, under rule one, above, eight teams could qualify, although that's not too likely.) Honestly, how can you say that a team no better than 7th or 8th in its conference belongs in the NCAA Tournament? (Sorry, Georgia Tech.)

These restrictions would somewhat limit the number of teams from the "major" conferences, thereby opening up a handful of additional slots for good teams from the mid-major conferences. At the same time, so-called "bubble" schools that don't meet the standards could hardly complain--they knew what they needed to do, but didn't do it.

For example, there'd be no debate this year about Syracuse, because it finished fifth in the Big East and failed to make it to the Big East tournament semi-finals. (Also, in the ACC, neither Georgia Tech nor Duke would qualify, knocking the ACC down to five teams, instead of seven.) By the same token, Drexel--which did get a raw deal--would be in.

The other thing our Curmudgeonly Top Four rule would do is make the major conference regular season standings and championship tournaments much more meaningful--and fun.

But then, what would all those sports blogs have to talk about now?


So far, our "Top Four" rule works. In the first round Thursday games, three teams, Duke, Marquette and Michigan State would not have qualified for the tournament based on our Top Four rule. Duke lost to mid-major VCU, while Marquette lost to Michigan State. Obviously, the Marquette v. Michigan State match-up ensured one would lose and one would advance.

For the Friday first round games, Georgia Tech, Arizona and Villanova would fail our Top Four rule. We'll see how they do today.

No big surprise: Georgia Tech, Arizona and Villanova all lost. None was playing a particularly highly-seeded team--instead, the regular season told us they were mediocre.

The only team left that would've been disqualified by our Top Four rule is Michigan State. We'll see if they survive today.


The Green Miles said...

I'm a Syracuse alumnus, and even I agree that they shouldn't have made the tournament this year. Their big men are soft, their guards are inconsistent, and they couldn't win big games until the end of the season.

I agree that generally speaking, I'd rather see scrappy underdogs out there than underachieving big schools. But I'd be reluctant to support any absolute rules about what teams could and could not make the tournament. For example, your "top four" rules would punish conferences with a lot of teams. Is it better to finish fourth in a conference of eight than fifth in a conference of 16 (as the Orangemen did)?

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