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Thumbs Down on NCAA Tourney Changes

Chip had some opinions on the NCAA Tourney changes and was nice enough to offer them to us. Thanks Chip!
The NCAA has really done it this time. For years, they've made incredibly inept decisions regarding recruiting, eligibility and rule changes. But now they've gone and done one of the worst things imaginable: tinker with one of the world's greatest sporting events - the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. In fact, they're not just tinkering with it, they're practically ruining it - and for the wrong reason.

For those who haven't been paying attention lately, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee approved a plan that will take the top 16 seeds and place them into first- and second-round sites independent of their eventual regional placement (East, South, Midwest, West) in an effort to keep teams closer to home in the early rounds.

In other words, the seeding process will remain basically the same, but the locations for each first- and second-round game will be determined by their proximity to the top 16 seeds. For example, under this format, Duke and North Carolina could have both played their first two games in Greensboro, NC, last year, but remained in their respective regional brackets.

The Selection Committee claims the changes are being made to reduce travel expenses and missed class time. They also claim it will make attending these games easier and less expensive for fans and families. But what they fail to mention is that this will be true only for the top 16 seeded teams.

That's right. Teams like Gonzaga, Hampton, Butler and Valparaiso will never know these benefits because only teams from the power conferences ever get seeded among the top four in each region. It's significantly easier for the bigger schools to afford trips across the country. The smaller schools, the Cinderellas, are the ones getting shafted here.

This new plan will create virtual home games in the early rounds for the top 16 seeds. No longer will teams ranked in the top 10 have to worry about winning any conference tournament games, because they'll still be able to play close to home. The time will come when college hoops fans long for the days when regular season and the conference tournaments meant something.

This will also take away from the great upsets that make the Tournament such a fantastic event. It's doubtful that we would have seen the upset victories of Gonzaga or any of the other Cinderella teams if the Tourney was set up this way over the past several years. It's the little schools that make the Tournament what it is: a chance to see the little guy take the stage. Many viewers watch the Big Dance simply because it gives the underdog a chance to win and viewers love the underdog.

So what's wrong with higher seeds playing games further away from home? They should have to earn their home advantages. That's why you play during the regular season. Champions always find ways to overcome the adversity of playing on the road.

UConn came out of the West Regional to win the NCAA title in 1999. I don't recall many complaints about their travel. Academics are not the issue here because teams have traveled before and graduated their players on time. Under this new system, teams will continue to travel, just not the ones who can afford it.

So if only the bigger schools get the advantages, why are the changes still being made? First of all, it's because the bigger schools are the NCAA's bread and butter. They bring more fan support and, thus, more ticket sales. According to the NCAA, three non-dome early round sites drew less than 89 percent of capacity last year. Is this a move to bring in that remaining 11 percent?

Which leads us to the real reason behind the changes: money. The NCAA can hide behind academics all they want, but revenue is the real gist of it. Remember, college basketball is not a sport; it's a business. And with all the lawsuits the NCAA has lost over the years, it goes without saying that the organization needs to make money.

I have no problem with the NCAA trying to increase their revenue, but do they have to ruin the competitive environment of one of the greatest sporting events to do it? In an age where college hoops is being tainted by sneaker companies, advertisers and sleazy agents convincing kids to leave early for the NBA, the NCAA Tournament is the one thing that makes college basketball special. And now, the NCAA is going to ruin it.

by Chip Bremer