Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Play-In Game Needs Fixed. But You Knew That.

The question here is, How?

Ideally, we'd take the thing out behind the woodshed, or if we wanted to keep the dog analogies going, we could just let Ron Artest take care of it for a week or two. (Is "behind the woodshed a dog saying? I always picture a dog being beaten when I hear someone say that...is it a wood saying? If that's the case, shouldn't it be "in" the woodshed? Someone clear this up.) Either way, the play-in game isn't going anywhere, so we are just going to have to work with what we have, kind of like Khalid El-Amin.

Why does the play-in game suck? Well, it's two teams that aren't very good playing each other in prime time on ESPN. It just feels bizarre. If two 16 seeds are playing, I need to see them on ESPN2 in a 2,000 seat gym decked out in school colors with arguably cute co-eds showing off their painted stomachs and hammered frat kids screaming into a camera that may or may not be on.

The teams are good, sure, but the quality of play is underwhelming; two days after watching the championship games of the ACC, the Big XII, the Big Ten and the SEC, we are suddenly watching what is probably the worst "best" team in the nation and whatever traditionally black school is getting screwed this year by the NCAA, the racists.

Not to mention that the team who actually does win has virtually no shot at being competitive in the real first round because they just played two days ago and had a brutal travel schedule. Niagara had a 4 am wake up call to catch a plane the night before staying up until 2 am to do their own laundry, for God's sake.

Plus, as Dan Shanoff points out, the game suffers from a nearly impossible to overcome lack of credibility...no one watches, no one cares who wins,
no one includes it in their bracket. It is a dead man walking.

The idea getting thrown around right now, and it is a terrific one, is to throw the last two at-large teams into the play-in game and let them battle it out. This is a phenomenal idea, for a few reasons.

I am all for the humiliation of the fourth place team from the SEC West and the fifth place team from a truly horrendous Big 10, and this is the perfect way to do it. (Something tells me that if this system ever was implemented, the selection committee would suddenly find it in their hearts to award two more mid-majors automatic bids so that one could eliminate the other and the winner could get annihilated in the next round. Just a hunch.) Plus, this game will highlight just how bad the committee does every year at filling those last two spots (I am convinced they get 63 teams figured out, then play Pin the Tail on the Donkey for those last two bids. While drunk.)

The idea is awesome at heart, but it is a little short-sighted, I think. Say we do stick the last two at-larges in the play-in game - this year, it would probably be Arkansas and Illinois. Well, as fun as that would be, the winner has to play Kansas. How is that fair to Kansas? They are a No. 1 seed and need to be rewarded like one. You can't punish Kansas for having a terrific season.

So what do we do? Well, why not just stick the winner back into the bracket as a 12 seed? Whichever 5 seed they are matched up with was going to have to play a 12 seed, anyways. Where's the harm? I'm sure there would be some fight among the 5 seeds to get that game, but that's a small price to pay.

This benefits everyone, I think. The small school that actually earned an automatic bid gets to experience going to The Big Dance and playing on the first day instead of being shipped to Dayton to play in a game most people couldn't care less about (I don't know why Dayton is so geeked about hosting this thing, but, hey: thanks). The big guys who only got in because Gary Walter said so have to actually earn their way in. The 1 seed who needs rewarded for their season still gets to play a traditional 16 seed. Ratings for the game would probably go up, too - more people follow one BCS school than Niagar and FAMU combined. I really don't see a down side here.

I wonder how schools from the power conferences will react to the "hey, this is still the first round....
really, it is" bullshit logic that the NCAA throws out every year to the play-in game participants. My guess? Not well. Those coaches would throw a hissy-fit; Bruce Weber would have already been on PTI and Sports Center more than Jim Boehiem crying about what an unfair travesty this is.

If the NCAA insists on keeping two tiny schools in the play-in game, at least play the damn thing on CBS. The only reason the play-in game was even created was so CBS would have one more enticing first round match up (which is kinda of crazy; people are watching regardless of who is playing, at least during the first weekend). So if CBS wants to air the first round, then they are airing
all of the first round.

And make Jim Nantz and Billy Packer call the game, too. What would be more entertaining: hearing Jim Nantz try to cheese up the game with as many over-the-top one-liners as possible
("And the water falls in Niagara will run purple tonight!") or listening to Billy Packer try to keep the contempt out of his voice - and fail miserably - as he criticized every tiny decision?

Might be a push.

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