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It’s that time of year again, the madness of March, where everyone fills out a bracket, and the talk of the water cooler is the office poll. This year’s tournament looks to be an interesting one as the field is full of talent, and only a few teams seem to barely be separating themselves from the field.
Every year prior to “Selection Sunday,” there is talk about bubble teams, snubs, and whether or not the tournament should be expanded. This is the largest the field has ever been, at 68 teams, but there is still an idea out there of expanding the tourney to 90 or even 128 teams, which is an absurd idea.
Rather than more expansion, the tournament should look at other options to optimize this time of the year.
There are a few things that would make the tournament that much better, keeping the casual viewers locked in far after their brackets have crumbled.
The first thing would be to eliminate the conference tournaments as the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. Currently, 31 teams get automatic bids to the tournament, and 30 of these conferences choose to give the bid to the conference tournament champion, even if they did not win the conference.
Only the Ivy League awards the regular season winner of the conference an automatic berth.
This diminishes the regular season somewhat, and the accomplishments of winning a regular season conference title. Small conferences rarely get at large berths, so whoever wins their conference tourney will represent the conference, regardless of what type of season they had. This places way too much weight in a few games at the end of the season, and jeopardizes a team’s season accomplishments.
Conference tournaments are great warm-ups for the big dance, and are a ton of fun to watch, but they should be used to give teams one last shot to convince the selection committee of their worth, not make up for a bad season in just a few wins.
Secondly, the tournament needs to trim the fat off a watered down first round. In the early 80’s there were only 48 teams, and although play-in games were added, it stayed like this until 1985 when it jumped to the current concept of 64 teams. 48 teams would be a perfect number, even though it makes the tournament shorter, it gives byes to the top four seeds in each region, awarding the top teams. The top teams are the ones that have the most legitimate shot of winning the tournament, and many of the lower seeds are just a waste. The lowest seed to ever reach the finals was Villanova in 1985 as an 8 seed.
With 31 automatic qualifiers, the selection committee would then select 17 at large teams, effectively choosing every ranked team, and giving all of the best teams a chance at winning.
Next, the NBA needs to help its own game, and strengthen college ball by eliminating the one-and-done deal. Kids would be able to jump to the NBA straight from high school, but if a player enrolled in college, they would have to stay at least two years. This would create a better game in the NBA, and in college, teams would be more developed and culture a persona for teams. Fans would know the players on each team, and there wouldn’t be such a drastic overhaul of players from one year to the next. This would simply create more drama, and better basketball games. Some of the best years of March Madness included big names that played in the tournament every year.
Of course these are just some suggestions to fine tune an already extremely exciting and enjoyable time of the year. There will be upsets, drama, big games, and names will be made this year. Enjoy it, even if your bracket makes you angry. But don’t forget, sometimes less is better, and with less teams, and a few tweaks March Madness could become even madder. I just wish we could have this discussion about College Football…