Monday, July 03, 2006

128 Teams. Worst. Idea. Ever.

There's been some dumb ideas before.

"Tin Cup" going for the green at the Open instead of laying up. The Knicks handing the keys to Isiah (they did see what he did to the CBA, right? He drove an entire league completely out of existance. Has that even ever been done single-handedly before? They were aware of this, weren't they?) Joe Namath saying, "Interview with Suzy Kolber? Suuuure...let me just finish this last beer..."

Expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament to 128 teams is just as bad of an idea. Trust me.

Before we go through the litany of reasons why this is an awful idea, let me get one thing off my chest. If one more person - coach, analyst, news reporter, my own mother - refers to "expanding to 128 teams" as "doubling the size of the current field," I will go on a boobey-trapping rampage the likes of which hasn't been seen since Makuley Caulkin got left home alone. Both times.

You know why it isn't doubling the current field? Because doubling the current field gives you 130 teams, that's why, because the self-indulgent, money-grubbing, sanctimonious bastards at the NCAA have 65 teams in the current field. So if you really want to "double the field," then make it 130. If you want 128, call it that. Thank you.

Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the bottom of this. Why does this idea make Tin Cup look like an innovator? Here are "the coaches" reasons - from this article - for wanting to expand to 128. Let's debunk them, one by one. It'll be fun!

• The number of Division I teams has increased significantly since the last major expansion more than two decades ago. The field went from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, then added a 65th team to the field in 2001 when the number of automatic bids went from 30 to 31.

So there are now more teams, so let's have a bigger playoff. Seams reasonsable. But that's not the reason coaches want to expand. They want to be able to say, "Hey, look, I made the tourney 4 years in a row (please forget I got bounced in the first round every time), so you can't fire me. I'm successful!" Its a complete and direct lie that coaches feel more total teams should equate to more teams in The Dance. They just want greater job security. (Hey, with so many different teams, aren't there more job opportunities? Jus' sayin...)

And 128...the sole reason that number got picked is because it creates a "perfect" bracket. No team needs a bye and no teams are penalized with extra games. But 128? C'mon. There are teams in the tourney now with sub-.500 records...imagine when it is doubled? Who needs the opening weekend filled with teams who couldn't even win half their games? The first weekend is the best part, anyways. This would ruin all that fun; half the games would end in lopsided blowouts. That's no fun.
• George Mason, which was one of the last at-large teams to make the field this year, proved parity in college basketball is real. The combination of prominent programs losing underclassmen at faster rates and scholarship reductions have helped mid-major schools become more competitive. The coaches believe they deserved to be rewarded accordingly.
Is anyone buying this? Anyone? You really think the coaches in the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, etc. are really up and arms that some "worthy" mid-majors or small schools are being left out? Please. They could care less. And sure, some of those bids would go to the mid-majors or smaller schools, but the overwhelming majority would go to .500 or below teams from the power conferences. Does anyone really want to get excited about Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt? I didn't think so.

(And besides, if some mid-majors do get in - either at the expense of some power schools or knock off some power schools once they are in - that does not bode well for those coaches who are worried about their job security. No, the last thing this is about is the mid-majors.)

Any by the way, parity isn't "real." George Mason was a fluke. (Not the team, but the fact that a mid-major went to the Final Four. Don't expect that to happen again anytime soon.) The reason mid-majors RPI's are so high is because they all play eachother (give them credit, they do have good records). It's not like mid-majors - with the rare exception - are regularly polishing off power conferece schools. Throw any mid-major in a power conference, and they aren't entering The Dance with 25-3 records - if they are going at all.

Yea, the gap is shrinking, but slowly. A 16 still won't beat a 1. What's shrinking faster, the small schools distance between the big boys, or US Soccer's gap between them and the rest of the world? Who knows. Translation: they ain't close yet.
• Now that the NCAA controls both postseason tournaments, coaches think it's time to include some of the bubble teams that annually complain when they are left out.
You think teams 129 and 130 and 131 won't have a gripe under this system? No matter where the cutoff line is, the teams just on the outside of it will complain. Just the way it is. The only way to stop that would be to let everyone in - and then there would still be complaints about seedings and where games were played...just draw a line and be done with it. 64 is perfect.

The coaches, by asking for 128, may get a significantly lower number - mayeb 68, 80, 90. So give 'em credit, they aren't stupid. But don't think for a second this has anything to do with mid-majors. George Mason is merely a fortunate catalyst that fell into the laps of the teams that regularly finish 5th and 6th in the power conferences.

Of course, there are some upsides. Gus Johnson would get to call more games. So that's a positive if there ever was one. But that's about it.

Please, please, live The Dance the way it is. Its about the only thing the NCAA hasn't completely screwed up. Please.

64 is perfect.

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