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Friday, Feb. 23
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Column: Tournament format lacks logic

In three days, it will be Selection Sunday, and someone will be upset, no doubt with good reason.

A worthy team will be left out, a middling squad will make the cut or teams will be grossly over- or under-seeded. Or all of the above.

The squabbles, while certainly good for stimulating conversation during the next week, mask bigger issues with the format of the NCAA tournament.

Largely hailed as a resounding success last year after VCU’s Final Four run, the tournament’s 68-team format will be exposed for its many flaws soon enough, perhaps this year.

The greatest problem I see with it is that the tournament is fundamentally unfair in structure.

Byes are commonplace, accepted in modern sports and not going anywhere soon. And that is fine.

The NFL playoff structure, for instance, with two byes per conference, has long been one of the best in sports.

Even the wacky Big East basketball conference tournament, in which some teams need three wins for the conference crown, others four and the rest five, manages to work.

The reason these work is ultimately simple: logical ratios. Four of 12 playoff teams get byes in the NFL. The Big East has a 4:4:8 ratio.

The NCAA field was once so logical that no byes were needed.

Sixty-four teams meant every team had to do the same thing to come away as champions: six wins.

Even the addition of a play-in game did not matter in the great scheme of things as the winner of that game never defeated the tournament’s top overall seed.

But this past year’s expansion to 68 teams messed that all up.

Had the four play-in games all been among low-major conference champions for 16 seeds, it would have hardly mattered, as history suggests all four winners would have subsequently been trounced anyway.

In fact, it would have given real opportunities to make effects in the tournament to the three at-large teams that were in the field thanks to the expansion.

Instead, only two of the play-in games are for 16 seeds with the others for the final at-large teams. That system is simply too inconsistent, relying on at least two at-large teams slotted at the lowest at-large seed.

In 2011, one play-in was for an 11 seed and the other for a 12. Not only is this
simply unfair to these teams in regard to the other teams at those seeds, but essentially having a tournament where 60 out of 68 teams get byes is absurd.

Furthermore, the National Invitational Tournament provides us with an opportunity every year to see the teams that just missed the cut, and every year we see at least a few teams that clearly should be in the field.

That is why I have come to support a potential 96-team format. Every team that has any chance of making noise in the field will be there, and the ratio of byes will be clean and convenient.

Plus, the extra first round would certainly be lucrative financially for the NCAA, the TV stations and advertisers. And fans, of course, get an extra round of games.

Would there inevitably be some mismatches? Sure, but there already are, and a few more are a very reasonable price to pay for a fairer, more logical and potentially even more exciting tournament.

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