With major changes clearly coming to the NCAA, Gary Parrish looks down the road and asks: what about the tournament?
As we all know by now, most of what's happened is football-driven, but basketball is a big money maker too. No one wants to break the tournament, and a huge part of its success is when schools like George Mason or Butler or Valparaiso make a stirring run.
The basic idea is this: the power conferences could set up their own tournament and keep the money for themselves.
|Last Years's NCAA Field||Last Year's NCAA Field With Just Big 5 Teams|
The problem with that is this: with 65 teams in the power conferences, in order to do that, they'd either have to cut the field to excellent teams or let everyone in. And a lot of teams, good teams, would have nowhere to go, while mediocrities would get automatic invites.
Had it been last year, for instance, that would've meant letting Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Rutgers, USC, South Carolina and Tennessee in. Who the hell would have wanted to see those teams in the greatest tournament in the world? They stunk, they stayed home, and that was entirely proper..
Additionally, it would have meant that metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans would have had no compelling reasons to watch the tournament.
We're not saying those cities would tune it out en masse, or that having secondary teams like Georgia State or Tulane or Loyola or George Washington would have made up for Georgia Tech, LSU and Maryland or Georgetown. But they would've generated interest.
Last year, the states in the chart to your right were represented. If we missed anyone, our apologies, but it still helps illustrate our point. Which were the most electrifying teams in this field? We'd say Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast, although Michigan was nearly as exciting.
Aside from the fact that you'd lose the excitement of Dunk City or the Shockers, in this particular field, you'd also lose contenders from Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusets, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.
In a field with just the power conference teams, a mediocre Maryland team would have been in the field as would be Boston College, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Washington and Washington State.
The money might be better, but the excitement would be minimal.
There would also, we expect, be a level of resentment from states which are shut out wholesale or which, like Nebraska, have no tradition of excellence in the sport outside of Creighton.
Here's a better idea: keep the national tournament, well, national. But let the power conferences add a major tournament to start the season with, say, a 32-team field.
Take the top teams from each power conference, seed them, and let them go at it. Then in the post-season, rematches or anticipated first matchups, will be immensely hyped. Plus you'd still have the underdog thrill.