The NCAA tournament is the most highly anticipated playoffs in all of sports.
All the uncertainty, the excitement, and the heartbreak is why this post-season chase for a championship is affectionately known as “March Madness.”
Even though people love the current format of the tournament, and believe that it is the most exhilarating playoff in all of sports, it could still be improved with a few changes to enhance our love for the game of basketball and the tournament.
By making a few alterations to the NCAA Tournament, we can restore the relevancy of the regular season, keep the excitement of the Big Dance, and ensure that we get to enjoy college basketball at its highest level at the end of the year.
1. Eliminate Conference Tournaments
One of the most frustrating aspects of March Madness is the importance of conference tournaments.
For the power conferences, the league tournaments are nothing more than a money-making scheme that deceive fans into believing that these games are of utmost significance. Occasionally, a less-talented, under-achieving squad will gain some momentum in this final competition, giving itself and its fans a glimmer of hope that maybe it can play its way into the NCAA tournament.
Mostly, however, these tournaments illustrate what we already know. The top four teams in these major conference tournaments are usually the ones battling for a conference tournament championship. all these final conference games do are add an exclamation point to a team’s tournament resume or perhaps improve or drop a team’s seeding by a position come Selection Sunday.
On the other side of the fence, over in the meadows of mid-major conference tournaments, the final conference meetings of the season hold serious implications.
For most of these conferences, the champion of the conference tournament earns the automatic bid into the Big Dance, while others are sent packing (either home, to the NIT, or to the CBI). While these tournaments hold more weight in post-season significance, they are an unnecessary, even unfair, way to determine what team punches its ticket to the national tournament.
For the mid-major conferences, these tournaments essentially eliminate the importance of the regular season. It’s almost laughable that a team that won its conference championship during the regular season, but fell short in one game in the conference tournament, can have its success throughout the duration of the season go for naught.
I understand fully that these tournaments are incredibly profitable, and the one-and-done excitement of the NCAA Tournament approaching adds fuel to this fire, but it is a completely inessential aspect of college basketball.
Let’s reward the teams who win all season long, not the teams who can catch a little fire and win three or four games in a row.
Rather than allow the conference tournament champion to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, let’s eliminate the conference tournament and just give the invitation to the regular season conference champion.
And if you want any more influence, listen to a conversation that took place between Dan Dakich and Indiana basketball broadcaster Don Fischer on ESPN 1070 The Fan a few weeks ago. (You’ll want to listen around the 12 minute mark, the last three minutes of the interview).
Don’t Touch Rounds One, Two, and Three
Now that we have eliminated conference tournaments, and Selection Sunday has conveniently been rescheduled a week earlier, let’s enjoy the NCAA tournament’s first three rounds the way we have throughout the history of the tournament.
The most exciting feature of college basketball’s biggest stage is the unpredictability of the first three rounds of play. The big upsets, the exciting finishes, and the close calls are enough to give healthy men a heart attack at any given moment. It is the whole reason sports fans and college hoops diehards love this month.
We love to see big upsets, when the underdog knocks off highly touted opponents. We also hope and pray that some of the historic programs (most fans will say Duke) go down in embarrassing fashion (much like in last year’s first round loss to 15th seeded Lehigh).
It’s arguably the most exciting week in all of sports. Let’s just leave it alone. Don’t add teams, don’t drop teams, just leave it alone.
But then let’s get crazy…
2. Make The Rest of the Tournament Best-of-3
Now, the fun part of tweaking the NCAA tournament: creating a best-of-three series from the regional semifinals (Sweet 16) through the NCAA Championship.
Now that the one-and-done excitement is out of our system, and we’ve seen some incredible games and monumental upsets, it’s time a team to prove itself the national champion.
The Cinderella teams would really be put to the test in this situation, as winning a best-of-three series requires more than a hot 40 minutes and a little of luck. This would allow the best teams in the country – be they the big conference schools or so-called mid-majors – the opportunity to showcase their talents and not let the outcome of one game end an impressive season.
More times than not, the better team will win in a best-of series. Assuming this would be the case, the tournament could set itself up for even greater Final Fours and an epic championship series.
Who wouldn’t want to watch the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks and Memphis Tigers battle in a three-game series? The single game was unbelievable in itself. Can you imagine if we had two more of those games?
Even though teams like Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, and George Mason have recently earned their way into the Final Four, I don’t believe it would have happened if we had a best-of-three format in place. In turn, we would have had a more enticing championship game than the Butler-UConn championship game from 2011.
Everyone pulls for the underdog and mid-major, of course. At the same time, we want to see quality basketball and top-notch teams performing at their highest level to cap off the college hoops season. I enjoy watching teams like the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, and the 2007 Florida Gators dominate all season long and work their way to the title game.
When teams who performed at an average pace all season play in the Final Four, it seriously hurts the image of college hoops and lessens the impact of the regular season.
To keep the regular season in the college game somewhat relevant, and to get more high quality basketball, let’s have four rounds of a best-of-three series to determine who advances into the next round of play.
This different format of eliminating conference tournaments and adding a best-of-three series to the NCAA tournament is uncommon ground, and, therefore, will be received negatively (I assume).
Yes, the bracket is great, and there is a plethora of excitement and anticipation surrounding March Madness, but these tweaks would only enhance the play we see in the tournament and would only make for a more exciting conclusion to the college basketball season.
Do you agree or disagree? Chime in below.