Yesterday and today, the NCAA men’s basketball committee has been hashing out the details of the 68-team tournament they approved last month. They have a couple of options going forward in regards to the format of the tournament and much speculation has been rearing its ugly head among journalists and message boards alike. The two prevailing opinions:1. Pit the last eight at-large qualifiers against each other, with the winners advancing to the 12-seed line (or around there).
2. Keep the format unchanged and pit the 8 lowest rated teams against one another.
It seems most fans fall into the camp that the committee should have the last eight at-large qualifiers compete against each other for the right to sit on that 12-seed line, and if we’re talking about fairness, this is the more reasonable option. Automatic qualifiers in the smaller conferences should be rewarded not just with a ticket to the big dance but a chance to play in the real thing, along with the exposure that affords. I don’t care if they have a losing record on the season and won because all the other teams came down with the Swine Flu, they deserve to see their name in the real bracket and not the “certificate of participation bracket”. Besides, if these bubble teams in the major conferences want to be in the real thing, they need to win their conference tournaments, period.
But of course, the committee is going to choose what they see as the most economically advantageous decision for them and to me this is also the at-large option. Big conference bubble teams (think Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, Virginia Tech this year) already have the fan base and exposure to create television ratings for these preliminary games. It’s obvious that a Florida/Illinois matchup would be more watched than Arkansas Pine Bluff against Winthrop.
There is a third option, one that Big 12 commish Dan Beebe has been shopping around. His is a compromise between the two prevailing opinions, one that would pit the 4 lowest at-larges against the 4 lowest rated teams. I honestly don’t know what the committee will decide, and wouldn’t be surprised with any of the three options. If the at-large or compromise option is chosen, the tournament would look pretty different next year. If they stick with the 8 lowest rated teams squaring off, then all this hoopla about the tournament expanding really has been a lot of smoke and no fire.
In addition, the committee will decide when and where these pre-opening round games will be played. May 17 they’ll start hearing from conferences on their recommendations and then at the end of June they’ll make their final determinations.