The NCAA officially announced changes to the tournament’s bracketing principles on Thursday afternoon.
The changes were made in an effort for the tournament to reflect the true seeding of each team that is invited. There are two major changes to pay attention to:
1) Teams from the same conference will no longer be required to wait until the Elite 8 to play if eight or fewer teams from the conference reached the tournament. The new rules:
- Conference foes that played once during the regular season can face-off in the Round of 32.
- Teams that played twice during the year can play each other in the Sweet 16.
- If teams played three times during the season — a home-and-home during the regular season and a matchup in their conference tournament — they will have to wait until the Elite 8 to play.
2) The top four teams from a given conference will be placed in separate regions only if they are all to four seeds. Previously, the top three teams from a given conference had to be in different regions regardless of where they were to be seeded.
The committee also decided that rules against rematches from the regular season will be relaxed. If possible, they will be avoided in the First Four and the Round of 64, but it will not be a hard-and-fast rule, particularly for the teams headed to the First Four.
“We want to remain as true to the seed lines as possible,” Ron Wellman, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Wake Forest University, said in a release. “Too often we have had to move teams up and down a line because we have been limited by our principles on teams from the same league.”
“When you move a team off of a seed line,” he added, “you’re not only affecting that team, you’re affecting the team it would play.”
Per the NCAA’s release, “an average of ten teams per year have moved up or down at least one line on the bracket”.
“We have determined that 90% of the seed lines moves that occurred in the last three years would have been eliminated if the new principles were in effect,” Wellman said.
The changes stem from complaints about Oregon receiving a No. 12 seed last season despite winning the Pac-12 tournament. Cal was also dropped to a No. 12 seed, where they were essentially given a home game in a rematch with No. 5 UNLV.
The fact that conferences are getting larger and more teams from each league are making the Big Dance also helped push these changes along. Same conference bracketing principles aren’t as much of an issue when there are five or six teams from a league getting a bid. When there are 11 Big East teams, as there were in 2011, it’s more difficult.
The only change that the NCAA needs to make now is to stop referring to the Round of 64 as the second round and the Round of 32 as the third round.