I’ll be honest — I hate the idea of play-in games.
You have five months and 30-some odd games to “play-in” to the tournament. Getting a bonus game because you weren’t quite good enough makes no sense. This is big time, Division I college basketball. Its not CYO. We shouldn’t give everyone a trophy for participating.
That said, I’m a realest. I know that as the tournament generates more and more revenue, its going to get bigger and bigger. I can accept the First Four, but if we are going to have it, we might as well get it right.
(Before I rant about the play-in games, let me first rant about, well, the name of the play-in games. The rant before the rant, if you will.
Calling the four games that occur in Dayton this week the first round is, frankly, stupid. Everyone knows that they are play-in games. Why? Because no one that is participating in an NCAA Tournament pool is forced to pick a winner, the same way that no one was forced to pick a winner last season when there was just one play-in game. I can throw a bunch of Purina Puppy Chow into a bowl, dress it up nice, and call if beef tips from Oklahoma Joe’s, but is anyone going to believe it. Why? Because the overwhelming majority of us aren’t that stupid.
Call the games the First Four. Refer to them as play-in games. No one believes the tournament was structured so that 60 teams could get a “first round bye”.)
The 16 seeds should not be forced to participate in the play-in games.
UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock played a great game in the First Four opener on Tuesday night. Asheville came back from 11 down in the second half, got a game-tying three from Matt Dickey with just 10.5 seconds left, and eventually won in overtime. It was dramatic, it was fun, it was everything that March Madness is about.
But no one is going to be talking about that game tomorrow.
What everyone is going to be talking about is the snoozer between Clemson and UAB, where the Tigers obliterated a Blazer team that did not look like they belonged in the Big Dance. You’ll see columns bashing the selection process or Conference USA. You’ll hear radio show hosts wax poetic about how Colorado or Alabama or Virginia Tech deserved to get in over them.
What is the sense of forcing a team that earned their way into the tournament to, once again, earn the right to participate in the main event? Regardless of how good the game is, it will be overshadowed by whatever happens in the second, more meaningful-to-the-masses, game.
I can’t be the only one that thinks seeing Marquette playing Missouri or Georgia playing Michigan State would have drawn more eyeballs and more interest that UNCA and UALR. Hell, those games would have made Clemson-UAB look insignificant.
And frankly, Marquette, Missouri, Georgia, and Michigan State were more deserving of having their week blown up than UNCA or UALR.
I understand the argument that regular season conference champions should get the automatic bids. Its the best determinant of who is the best team in a conference. I also understand the sentiment there should be no automatic bids. The NCAA Tournament is supposed to be the 68 best teams in the country, right? There is no way you can tell me that UNCA is better than, say, Seton Hall or Washington State.
But based on the way the current rules are set up, the way you earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament is by winning your conference tournament.
UNCA and UALR both did that.
Marquette, Missouri, Georgia, and Michigan State all backed into the NCAA Tournament, relying on the strength of their conference and the quality of their losses to get in. I think it is safe to say that based on preseason expectations and talent level, all four of those teams had a disappointing seasons.
UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock — and UT-San Antonio and Alabama State — won the right, based on our rules, to play in the NCAA Tournament.
And we should let them do just that.
Not schlep them off to Dayton to have their numbers cut in half.
Have the big boys square off for the right to get a shot at a four or five seed.
They are more deserving and will draw more eyeballs.
Isn’t that what the NCAA is about?