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Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament

How hard could it be? Like sinking free throws in Pop-a-shot, all the committee choosing the NCAA men's basketball had to do was pick the right teams. Drexel beat Villanova, Creighton and Syracuse. Appalachian State beat VCU, Vanderbilt, and Virginia. They did everything they needed to do to get in - scheduled conference-worthy teams on the road, and beat them. A free-throw. Right?

Um, maybe not. The men's committee thought that a 17-12 Stanford team (who lost four of their last five) deserved to make it in the tournament, and a 21-13 Arkansas team that went 6-8 in the SEC (with terrible losses to SEC cellar-dwellers LSU and Auburn) were more worthy than two "mid-majors" that proved that they belonged with the big boys.

It's no secret as to why Stanford, Arkansas, and borderline teams Texas Tech (who got thrashed by Kansas State in their conference tournament) and Illinois (who beat only one ranked team all year). Rather than give the Colonial Athletic and SoCon extra TV money for their deserving teams, they'd rather reward the schools that already make a mint from their athletics programs. It's no coincidence that the schools who made it in are from the Pac-10 (Stanford), Big 12 (Texas Tech), Big 10 (Illinois) and SEC (Arkansas). Rather than let a smaller school (or conference) get a little more TV time or TV money, they have to stack the deck to crowd out the "little guy" and give an undeserving school one more game on TV (and the money that comes with that). If there was any doubt that the selection of teams is ultimately about money, this should put that to rest. Is it any coincidence that the "screwed teams" are in the CAA (Drexel), SoCon (Appalachian State), MVC (Missouri State) and WAC (Air Force)?

It's really amazing how little the NCAA cares about the actual tournament when you look at the entire field in this way, diluting the quality of its product in the first round and beyond. Put it this way: Where's the compelling story in a Illinois/Virginia Tech 5-12 first-round game? Is it likely to enter into the lore of the NCAA tournament, or is it likely to fade into history as a game versus tournament also-rans? Now, think of a Appalachian State/Virginia Tech game or a Missouri State/Illinois game. Which games have more juice? Which ones are David vs. Goliath? Which one has teams storming the court if they win, and Billy Packer saying "That's what March is all about!"

In addition, there's some "David vs. David" matchups in the first round that has me puzzling. Southern Illinois/Holy Cross? Butler/Old Dominion? Nevada/Creighton? Sure, they guarantee good "David's" to play in Round 2 and have a good shot at the Sweet 16. But it also eliminates three legitimate sleepers right away - and, hmm, it also protects that precious extra Pac 10 or Big 10 possibility.

The way the men's tournament is set up now, the committee would rather have two Goliaths with bad knees and broken noses play in a meaningless game rather than give any of the real Davids' out there a real shot. In a year where there are not a lot of compelling big-conference heavies beyond the top 8 or 9 teams, it's a real travesty.

I'll weigh in more about the tournament in the next couple days (I think the next part of my "New Realities" will have to wait for next week), specifically about Holy Cross, why you should root for them, and why I think they have a chance against Southern Illinois. But someone ought to call the NCAA out for being a slave to keeping big money to the big conferences, and I'm doing that right now.

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