Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
It would be so easy to correct. Virtually all the complainers, the whiners, and especially the teams with valid complaints (Hofstra two years ago, Syracuse last year, Dayton, among others, this year) could be satisfied while, essentially, still staying true to the NCAA tournament committee’s view.
The NCAA itself set the stage a few years back when they expanded the tournament to 65 teams. The “play-in” (the NCAA hates that word but it’s appropriate) game was an embarrassment then and it’s an embarrassment now. Two teams are identified as the two worst teams in the tournament and then play each other on, usually, a dead sports night to earn the right to get their heads kicked in against the best team in the tournament.
Here’s a much better, much more exciting solution: Go back to 64 teams and then pick the last four “bubble” teams that didn’t make the tournament. Have those four teams go on the road on Tuesday and play, respectively, the last four teams who made the tournament under the committee’s often incorrect view (understand, at that point, there will always be arguments and, often, mistakes made). The winners of those four games are then plugged into the 11 or 12 seed and play on Friday – one in each bracket.
It’s so simple that it will probably never happen (feel free to send this to an NCAA committee member). But here’s how it would have worked this year, for example: Villanova, as a 12 seed, was obviously the 65th team selected, so they would not have been selected in a field of 64. The bottom four who did make it (at-large bids, of course) were Baylor, Kentucky, St. Joseph’s and Kansas State, all 11 seeds.
While you can argue about the four left out, I’ll choose three with pretty good cases (Villanova would already be in as the 65th team selected by the committee). I’ll choose Dayton (beat 3 seed Louisville at Louisville, 4 seed Pitt, had some injuries), Virginia Tech (even though he was right, Seth Greenberg might have talked his way out of the tournament after a tough loss to #1 North Carolina by 2, also lost to Clemson by 1, won 19 games, 9-7 in the ACC and when was the last time the ACC Coach of the Year didn’t make the tourney (rhetorical question)?) and my personal favorite, the recipients of this year’s Hofstra Award, Arizona State (beat Arizona – who made the tourney – twice, better in-conference record than Arizona, beat TWO 3 seeds, Xavier and Stanford).
The prize for being selected is a home game (and for the four teams that didn’t make it, they would have to go on the road (as they should) and win their way into the tournament). So, depending on the geography (or the attractiveness of the match-ups) you would have four meaningful games (as opposed to one play-in game between #64 and #65), four sell-outs and four games that people would want to watch on Tuesday. ESPN could show them at 6, 8, 10 and 12 Eastern or something like that.
This year, I’d have Villanova play St. Joe’s (if you know anything about basketball in Philly, you know what this means), Virginia Tech could go down to Lexington, Arizona State could play Baylor and Dayton could play Kansas State. Great match-ups, meaningful games, sell-outs, what more could you ask for?
Why hasn’t this already happened? Well, I just don’t think anyone has focused on it as a possible solution. A 96- or 128-team tournament is absurd and more play-in games for the worst teams in the tournament have no juice except for the teams playing in them.
But wouldn’t the 69th and 70th team be upset? You bet they would be, but simply announce, when this is put into play, that the tournament selection committee, which knows it has a difficult job at the bottom end, is doing this to give the best four teams not selected in the top 64 a chance to make the tournament. If you, as a Division I basketball program, aren’t good enough to be picked for the top 33 at-large spots (31 automatic bids) AND aren’t good enough to make the next four (even if you’re hurt by that omission), you need to improve your program. Get the word out early, tell the coaches why you’re doing this and even they might understand and limit the whining. And, if you’re lucky enough to make the next four, shut up and go on the road and win a game. This four-team “buffer” zone, in this writer’s opinion, is the best solution for the NCAA.
Good luck to all in this year’s tournament but, remember that there’s an easy solution to correct this annual mess (and if anyone thinks it isn’t a mess, at the bottom end, every year, they’re just kidding themselves).
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.