[Trying to catch up on some old posts, here. There will be plenty of Ryan Howard and Eagles draft stuff once I get a chance.]
Yes, for the most part, when it comes to sports, I am a purist. I hate the Designated Hitter. I hate the Wild Card. I hate the X-Games. I even hate the sports mockeries that are the current day All-Star Games. So, it would seem to make sense that on an issue where everyone seems to be against changing the format of one of my two favorite sports, I would be in agreement with the masses. But…
Expand the tournament? Sure. Why not?
Maybe I’m crazy; maybe I’m not.
I have heard all the arguments, and some of them make a lot of sense. Here are some of the most popular arguments against expansion that I have heard. I tried to put them in order of how often I’ve heard them expressed:
- The current format is perfect, why mess with it?
- You’re going to let in some bad teams.
- It’s going to kill the conference tournaments.
- The only reason it’s even on the table is because the coaches want expansion to give them more job security because they’re more likely to “make the tournament.”
- Can you really take the kids away from class for that long?
- It’s going to kill the NIT.
Let me try and respond to them one at a time:
- The current format is perfect, why mess with it? Yes, it is BY FAR the best annual sporting event on the planet. (The Olympics might be a better all-around sporting event, and the World Cup definitely is, but they are not annual events.) It would be hard to find someone that loves the NCAA tournament more than I do, so I do see some merit in this argument. BUT…I do not think that the fact that there are 65 teams is the reason it’s so great. I think it was probably great with 16 or 32 or 48. I know it was great with 64. Then, it went to 65, and it’s still great. Honestly, it is not complicated why the tournament is what it is. It is such a wonderful event because there is just so much basketball. There are the amazing stories of small schools versus big schools, fans from small towns of 1,500 people versus those from multi-million-person metropolitan areas, and teams of country-tanned farmboys against teams of hard-knocked survivors of America’s inner cities. Will any of this change if we went to 96 or 128 or 256? Yes, one thing and one thing only–there will be MORE games. More buzzer-beaters. More Ohio U over Georgetown upsets. More Bryce Drews; more Stephen Currys; more George Masons; more overly-excited child-like players we’ve never heard of picking up fat, Gatorade-drenched coaches we’ll never hear from again. In a word, more MADNESS!
- You’re going to let in some bad teams. First of all, let’s be honest, at 96 or even 128, the teams aren’t bad. It’s not like 1-26 Marist is going dancing. It will just be more middling big-conference teams and more second- and third-place mid-majors. Am I scared that the entire Big East (except DePaul, of course) is going to make the tournament? Sure, I am. Do I think that North Carolina or UConn deserved a shot at winning the national title last year? Absolutely not. Am I excited about watching a matchup between 15th-seeded Mississippi State and 18th-seeded Texas Tech? Not really. But, in the context of March Madness, sure, I’ll watch that game. I’ll watch any game. In fact, I didn’t hear one person complain about Georgia Tech-Oklahoma St., Clemson-Missouri, or Texas-Wake Forest this year. And, why not? Because it was the NCAA tournament, and it was awesome. Just like that Mississippi St-Texas Tech game would have been. In fact, two of the more intriguing first-round games were Xavier-Minnesota and Marquette-Washington, and those were games that pit middling teams in bigger conferences. Again, we’re talking about more madness. How is this a bad thing?
- It’s going to kill the conference tournaments. This is an argument that gets a lot of play, and I understand the concern and why people think that, but I just flat-out do not agree. First of all, if this is true than the current format would be killing tournaments like the Big East and ACC, who enter every year with about half the field pretty comfortable with their inclusion. Yet, we still see amazing, heartfelt games all the way through. Both Syracuse and UConn were comfortably in the tournament two years ago, yet they played 6 overtimes in a Big East tournament game. As much as the media is trying to take it away, there is still a lot of cache and a lot of bragging rights in the conference tournaments. Obviously, the goal is to win a national championship, but they still hang banners for conference championships. What is the difference between Ohio St. and Purdue this year? They both made the tournament. They both made the Sweet Sixteen. But, Ohio St. won the regular season and the conference title. Those kids get to relish in a conference title. OSU is going to hang a banner that says “2010 Big Ten Champions.” Purdue? Well, they had a nice season. They have stories of what could have been if Hummel wasn’t hurt. But, they don’t have what the Ohio St. kids have for eternity. No matter what you do to the NCAA tournament, these kids will play hard when it’s time to crown a conference champion. That’s for sure.
- The only reason it’s even on the table is because the coaches want expansion to give them more job security because they’re more likely to “make the tournament.” Now, I don’t know if this sentiment does exist among the coaches, but I do know that people are using the perception of this sentiment as a strike against expansion. First of all, the rationale of “we shouldn’t expand because it’s only what the coaches want” is not really a logical argument. Second of all, I think that if the coaches do actually feel this way, then they are way off-base. I actually think that tournament expansion is going to hurt coaches’ job securities. Look at Seth Greenberg. He made a living off of his team’s “snub.” He may have actually gained more national attention for his program and himself, as a coach, than say Florida St. who did make the tournament as a 9-seed and bowed out in the first round to Gonzaga. Everyone was talking about Virginia Tech. Everyone had an opinion on whether or not they should have gotten in. That is actually good for Seth Greenberg, his job security and his program. But, what if they got a 17-seed and lost in the first round? Just another one of 96 teams that got in and didn’t do anything. And…even more so, imagine the 97th team or the 108th team. The teams that do not make the 96-team field–particularly those from big conferences. How can their coaches look their ADs in the eye and say “bring me back for another year, we’re on the right track.” Think about Mark Gottfried. He brought Alabama’s program back to national prominence, including a brief stint at #1 in the country in 2002 and three straight tournament appearances. But, in the next 6 seasons, they only made the tournament once (and probably would have only made a 96-team field once or twice). Yet, Gottfried kept coming back (for the record, I think Gottfried is an excellent coach). Imagine, though, if a proud program, like the Crimson Tide, in a big conference like the SEC, missed a 96-team tournament even TWO years in a row? Gottfried is gone. I do not think that tournament expansion will help coaches keep their jobs. I actually think might have the opposite effect.
- Can you really take the kids away from class for that long? Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Hold on…hahahahahahahahaha. Seriously, people? This argument is absurd and probably not for the reasons that you think I’m going to cite. I’m not going to talk about how the term “student-athlete” is a joke because I don’t think it is. I think a couple O.J. Mayo’s ruin the reputation of a huge group of young men and women who are successfully juggling the pressure of big-time athletics with the rigors of higher education. But, let me tell you something about this argument. It’s a joke. Student-athletes are used to being away from campus. Going to 96 teams would add one extra game for 64 teams. That means that 64 teams would have to miss two more days of class. But, it’s during the season. How accustomed to being away are these kids? Hell, Boston College and Miami (FL) are in the same conference, which means every year the BC kids fly 1,500 miles for a road in-conference game. And, think about the Maui Invitational or the Great Alaska Shootout. Granted some of these are over winter breaks, but you get the point. This is a ridiculous argument.
- It’s going to kill the NIT. I actually kind of care about this, to be honest. I don’t want to see the NIT get swallowed up by the NCAA tournament. The NIT has been around longer than the NCAA tournament, and for the first two decades or so, was considered college basketball’s “national championship.” It is a really good basketball tournament with a lot of tradition. Granted, it is no reason to hold up expansion of the Big Dance, but it will be a sad byproduct if it ceases to exist. And, for the record, the first ever NIT champions? The Temple Owls. Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White!
All in all, there are certainly drawbacks from expansion. But, in my opinion, if some is good (and “some” madness is DEFINITELY good), then more is usually better. You never know when you’re going to get a monumental performance, so why not give us 95 NCAA tournament games and, therefore, 95 chances to be amazed. More Madness!
Tell me I’m crazy…