As Selection Sunday nears and bubble teams sit in the coaches house, wetting his couch like Poppy on Seinfeld as they wait for their team's name to pop up on the NCAA tournament bracket, I have an idea to take all the drama and anxiety out of this moment. College basketball needs to become more like College Football. I mean really, who needs three whole weekends of exciting, blood pumping moments that help define our sports year? Who needs the billions of dollars CBS throws to the schools that stage the sports world's second biggest, and most profitable, event? And really who needs the miraculous cinderella runs that forever cement schools like Butler and Gonzaga (and players like Gordon Haywood or Byrce Drew) into our national consciousness? No what college basketball needs is more exclusitvy, more power put in a cluster of large university presidents' and Athletic Directors' hands. It needs a more compelling regular season (like college football) where six overtime, conference tournament thrillers (or desperately close 8/9 NCAA tourney match ups) have no true meaning or probably wouldn't even be played. And it really needs to sacrifice a financial windfall that pays for every other athletic program in almost every division 1 school, as well as all the NCAA division championships in every single sport. College Basketball needs to become like College Football, where a backwards tradition and hierarchy supercedes true competition and fiscal sense...and here is how it can do it.
The College Basketball BCS System
-In college football only 2 teams, out of the 119 that compete at the Division 1 Bowl Subdivision, ultimately play for the national title at the end of the season. I know technically the AP can award a share of the national championship to a squad that isn't one the 2 that play in the BCS Title Game, but since that has happened only once in 13 seasons...it is not a realistic argument. So basically when everything is said and done, 1 out of every 59.5 division 1-A teams (I know 1-A is not the proper term anymore, but I am going to use it...so deal with it) compete for the national championship during bowl games. That is about 1.68% of the teams in the subdivision that get the chance to earn a national title at the end of the regular season.
Right now In college basketball there are 347 teams, and 68 earn a spot in the NCAA tournament and a chance to compete for the national championship. So currently about 19.6% of the programs in division 1 basketball technically get a spot to play for the title. That's almost 1 in every 5 teams...and that's just way too many. I am surprised AD's in the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and somehow the Pac-10 (the Pac-10 is to college basketball what the Big East is to college football...a damn joke) allow this to happen.
-How do we rectify this difference? Easy, make the NCAA tournament much more exclusive by drastically cutting the number of participants. If 1.68% of the football teams get to play for the national title at the end of the regular season, then somewhere close to that percentage of D-1 basketball teams need to be invited to our new national title race. So how small do we make the new NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament (the name I just coined for the new system...real creative I know)? How about 6 teams. A 6 team national title tournament would mean that about 1.73% of division 1 teams play for the championship...not quite BCS good, but not too far off. I think every power conference AD would take that right?
-To chose the 6 teams that compete in the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament we replicate the BCS systems, and rank the teams based on a combination of human polls and computer rankings. Right now to make things easier, and cut down on the considerable research I have had to do for this article (2 google searches and up to 5 calculator uses) let's just make our new ranking system (the Basketball Championship Tournament, or BCT, rankings) 1/3 based on the coaches poll, 1/3 based on the AP Poll, and 1/3 based on the RPI rankings. At the end of the regular season, and conference tournaments (if they would even still be played they now become completely optional and much harder to get into...like football conference title games) the top 6 teams in the BCT rankings are invited to the Championship Tournament...and that's it.
-I know what you all are saying...hey sach in college football 10 teams make BCS bowl games. And while those aren't quite games with national title implications, they still carry a lot of weight and prestige. And you're right, BCS games are inherently better than non BCS games (why? because they are), so we need to replicate this hierarchy in the new college basketball system. Right now in division 1-A college football 10 out of 119 teams, or 8.4 percent of the programs, play in BCS bowl games in a given season. And while only 2 of those teams really play for a national title, the other 8 earn huge financial windfalls for their participation in more prestigous bowl games. So here is the solution, the NCAA still holds a regular NCAA Tournament...just without the 6 teams who are playing in the Championship Tournament. This 24 team tournament replicates the 4 BCS bowl games in college football. This now means that 30 teams participate in the NCAA Tournament or Championship Tournament (24 teams in the regular tournament, plus the 6 in the championship tournament). So in the new college basketball system, 8.6% of the teams would either play for the championship, or in a "prestigous" NCAA tournament that means nothing in terms of winning an NCAA title, but guarantees the school's participating more money and national exposure for playing in it (even if the games don't really mean anything, but hey...people watch them in college football right?)
-The participants in this 24 team tournament are comprised of teams who met one of the following four criteria. 1-Any conference champion (tournament or regular season, depending on how the conference choose to name its "champion") from the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC or Pac-10 that isn't invited to the Championship Tournament gets an automatic bid (no matter their BCT ranking). 2-Any team that's not a conference champion, but is ranked between #7 and #12 in the BCT rankings, gets an automatic bid. 3-The top 3 teams in the BCT rankings from outside the power six conferences get automatic bids, and 4-Any other team ranked in the top 40 of the BCT rankings that is picked by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee as an at large team gets a bid (keep in mind, like in BCS bowl games, financial considerations will matter way more than season accomplishment or ability).
-However, in college football 70 teams actually get to play in some sort of bowl game. This means that 58.8% of D 1A football teams participate in post season action. How should NCAA basketball replicate these meaningless bowl games that are more rewards to "mediocre" teams and allow them to prolong their season? Easy. The NIT will be expanded to a 90 team tournament, and the CBI will be expanded to 80 teams. This means that 206 NCAA division 1 basketball teams, or approximately 59.3%, get to compete in post season play. However, like division 1 football, the participants in these tournaments will be decided by conference tie-ins (for instance the NIT will save 3 bids for the ACC, the CBI will give the Big 10 2 bids, etc.). The only rules are 1-Every conference champion must be invited to the Championship Tournament, the regular NCAA Tournament, the NIT or the CBI, and 2-You must have a .500 record or better to be eligible for post season play (unless 206 teams don't get to .500, which means the NCAA will grant waivers to below .500 teams...to fill these meaningless tournaments to fill up).
So, now that we have the guidelines set for the new BCT college basketball system, here is how the NCAA Championship Tournament and the regular NCAA Tournament would look this year (through the end of regular season play, excluding conference tournaments). I am not going to show you how the NIT or CBI would look, since that would literally take me forever to figure out. So...I'll leave that for the NCAA geniuses in Indianapolis.
2011 NCAA Championship Tournament (BCT rankings order. Ranking in AP, coaches and RPI polls in parenthesis).
1. Ohio State (1-1-2)
2. Kansas (2-2-1)
3. Pittsburgh (3-3-7)
4. Duke (5-5-5)
5. San Diego State (7-6-3)
6. Notre Dame (4-4-9)
Obviously, like the NFL playoffs, in a six team tournament the #1 and #2 seeds get a first round bye. That means first round games will be Pitt v. Notre Dame (winner plays KU in round 2) and Duke v. San Diego State (winner plays OSU in round 2) and it will go from there. Look I am not saying this tournament wouldn't be compelling, but are these really the only teams who earned the chance to have a mere shot at a national title this season? And this would definitely be more exciting and profitable than the NCAA tournament as it is...rght? Hey, wait a second...
Anyways here is how the regular NCAA Tournament would look. Again the participants are listed by BCT ranking.
2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament Participants
7. North Carolina (6-7-6)
8. BYU (8-8-4...Mid-Major Spot #1)
9. Purdue (9-9-8)
10. Texas (10-10-14)
11. Florida (12-12-10...SEC spot)
12. Wisconsin (13-13-13)
13. Syracuse (11-11-18)
14. Kentucky (15-16-11)
15. Arizona (16-15-15...Pac-10 spot)
16. Georgetown (22-22-12)
17. Utah State (23-17-17...Mid Major Spot #2)
18. St. John's (17-18-23)
19. Xavier (18-20-20...Mid Major Spot #3)
20. Kansas State (19-23-16)
21. Uconn (21-19-24)
22. West Virginia (20-26-19)
23. Temple (24-25-28)
24. Texas A&M (26-21-30)
25. Vanderbilt (27-24-27)
26. Cincinnati (25-29-31)
27. UNLV (30-31-25)
28. UCLA (29-28-33)
30. Villanova (28-27-37)
31. Missouri (31-30-32)
So the chalk pretty much held up in the NCAA basketball tournament, due to a lack of prestigious high major programs ranked between #32-40 who could steal bids (but think if Boston College (#37), Florida State (#38) and Washinton (#39) was replaced with North Carolina, Duke or Kentucky? You could say good bye to Temple, Vanderbilt, and UNLV). The only top 30 team that was excluded was George Mason (32-32-26...for a BCT ranking of #29). Does George Mason deserve it's bid? Absolutely...but like in football, Villanova and Missouri would be easily taken ahead of the Patriots.
As for the tournaments format, the top eight teams (North Carolina, BYU, Purdue, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Kentucky) get a bye into the second round. That means the first round games would be Arizona v. Missouri (winner faces Kentucky in round 2), Georgetown v. Villanova (winner plays Syracuse), Utah State v. UCLA (winner plays Wisconsin), St. John's v. UNLV (winner plays Florida), Xavier v. Cincinnati (crosstown rivals meet...winner plays Texas), Kansas State v. Vanderbilt (winner plays Purdue), Uconn v. Texas A&M (winner plays BYU) and West Virginia v. Temple (winner plays North Carolina).
Once again I am not saying this tournament would not be entertaining. But how would you like to see a North Carolina/Syracuse title game (two teams that could actually win it all this year) in a tournament that doesn't mean anything in the national championship race? Would I watch it? Yeah...but it wouldn't be the same (example: Imagine if the Stanford/Va Tech Orange Bowl or Arkansas/Ohio State Sugar Bowl was a first round playoff game? I mean I watched every minute of those games...but how much better/more entertaining would they have been if they actually meant something?)
So there you have it...college basketball's version of the BCS. Makes a lot of sense to throw away all that money and excitement and great competition for this BS right? Yeah...doesn't to me either. But hey...at least less teams get to play for the championship and the regular season finally really "means something" right? The big time programs should love that. As for the fans on the other hand? We won't be doing cartwheels over this kind of system (in any sport) anytime soon.