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Ruining TVs best experience: March Madness dies
April 2, 2010 - Keith Frederick
If you're a sports fan, think about the past year. I want you to think of the most exciting sporting event that took place over more than one day. I'll wait.
Done? Good. What did you come up with?
The Olympics? Ok, so if you're like most people you watched four, maybe five events. Six, if you're like most college students and got wasted while watching curling.
The NFL playoffs? Decent choice. They're pretty predictable most years, though. And all anyone really cares about - if their favorite team is out - is the Super Bowl.
The World Series? If you like watching baseball while there's snow outside, you need to get yourself checked by a licensed professional.
NBA playoffs? Now I know you're lying. Even NBA fans don't love the NBA playoffs.
The correct answer is March Madness. This year's tournament, despite the heartbreaking lack of my beloved Tarheels, has been one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory, with underdogs and upsets abound.
Two five seeds will play in the Final Four this year, for goodness sake! It's appropriate that this year has been so unpredictable (Cornell dominates!), so controversial (Robert Morris got screwed!), so exciting (Northern Iowa! Ali Farokhmanesh!) and so much freaking fun.
Why is it "appropriate"? It's appropriate because the NCAA is now going to murder it.
It's nearly a foregone conclusion that the NCAA will soon implement a plan that will increase the size of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament from 65 to 96 teams. Now why does that kill the greatest sporting event in the country? What does that mean?
That means that more than a quarter of the 347 teams in Division I will make it into the NCAA tournament. It means that 32 teams will get a bye into the second round, basically meaning that those big first round upsets everyone loves? Those are gone. It means that nearly every team in the major conferences will get into the postseason.
My Tar Heels? Carolina - who had a horrendous season, and didn't even deserve their place in the NIT tournament - would have been a lock for the 96-team NCAA tournament. At 11th place in their conference. With a 96-team bracket, it's possible that the whole damn Big East Conference would have been in the postseason this year!
So why would the NCAA screw with its most successful event? Particularly when college football desperately needs a playoff system of its own? Well, that is a simple question that deserves a simple answer:
The NCAA doesn't give a damn about "student athletes" or fair play or anything else that might make sense in regards to it being a "collegiate" institution.
The NCAA cares about money. That's it. That's all. It's all about money.
Why is there no playoff system in the SNAFU world of college football? Money. The bowls and their sponsors shell out enormous amounts of cash; Cash that the NCAA won't give up for something as trivial as "fair play."
Why would money be the impetus behind an expanded bracket? TV. 32 more playoff teams means 16 more playoff games, which means 16 more games for CBS to pay to put on the air. Does it matter that the 96-team tournament, as the NCAA has laid it out, will keep basketball players out of school for two weeks straight at the end of the school year? No. Not even a little bit. (To his credit, Washington Post columnist John Feinstein called out NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen over this and Shaheen double-talked and backtracked and confused the issue until Feinstein just gave up on getting a real answer.)
It's all about money. Money will ruin March Madness. Why?
There are two simple reasons from a purely entertainment standpoint:
1. Undeserving teams will kill the competitive level of the tournament. The NCAA has tried to tell us that an expanded tourney will make sure the "bubble teams" don't get left out unfairly. That's bull. Teams who finish the season at 17-15 do not deserve to see the playoffs, no matter how much money they can bring in.
Yahoo college basketball blogger Chris Chase said it best though: "You know who didn't deserve to be in the tournament this year? Every team that didn't make it."
2. A 96-team tournament will forever kill "bracketology." Why is March Madness so popular? Because it's one of the biggest gambling events in the country. Office pools are so popular, and so easy to get sucked into, that people who don't watch basketball all year long happily take part. Your company's 70-year-old receptionist will fill out a ballot, even though she wants to take "whatever team that Mikey Jordan plays for."
Does anyone, anywhere, really want to pick 48 games for their bracket? I, for one, won't do it. I can't imagine any casual fan will even consider it. The magic of the first Thursday and Friday of March Madness? When no one works very far from a television or streaming online feed? That will never, EVER be the same. Ratings will drop like a stone and the NCAA will be forced to realize that they killed their biggest event.
R.I.P. March Madness 1939-2010
The proposed, 96-team bracket. Are you freaking kidding me?!