Saturday, March 18, 2017

Making March Madness Even Madder

The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament remains my favorite weekend of the sports calendar.  However, there’s always controversy to contend with, and nowhere is this controversy more prominent than in the seeding of the teams at the event.

Wichita State is the perennial cause celebre, of course.  In spite of a continual record of success at the tournament, many see them as a team which the selection committee perpetually underseeds.  Last year’s team barely made the tournament as an 11-seed, then won both their play-in game and their second-round game against six seed Arizona.  This year’s edition won as a 10-seed against 7-seed Dayton.  There are other examples, of course, usually amongst teams from so-called “mid-major” conferences.

I know of no way to eliminate seeding controversies entirely, nor to alleviate the difficulties associated with choosing which teams to admit to the field.  But I do have an idea for making the process more interesting and entertaining.  Let’s adopt the “challenge format” that certain competitive debate tournaments have chosen.  Let’s allow the top seeds to select their first round opponents.

The system would work as follows.

1.  Narrow the field to 64 teams (or, if we must, hold the appalling “play in games” and set the challenge bracket immediately following).

2.  The selection committee should seed their top 32 teams as per standard procedure—1 through 8 seeds in four regionals, with a specific designation as to which is the “top” through “bottom” among the 1s, 2s, and so on.  Result is an ordinal list of the top 32.  Remaining 32 “low seeds” in an at-large pool.

3.  All coaches of the top 32 teams are gathered together at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO for a Pay-Per-View spectacular:  the Coaches vs. Cancer Selection Show, with all revenue (minus the NCAA’s 15% commission, of course) going to the aforementioned charity.

4.  Beginning with the coach of the top one-seed, the coaches are marched to a podium and forced to SELECT their first round opponent, NCAA draft style.  The moment a selection is made, the next coach goes on a five-minute clock.

5.  Failure to choose an opponent within the time allotted results in a random draw of the opponent—and the opponent then gets to disqualify one player of their choice from the higher seed’s roster for the game in question.

Can it happen?  No way in hell.  The coaching fraternity would never let it happen, for reasons of “respect”.  But IMAGINE THE CARNAGE, my friends.  Imagine Bill Self sweating out the choice of which small-conference tournament champion he’s going to call out, providing them a massive incentive to become the first 16-seed to topple a one.  Imagine Mike Kryzewski going back to Raleigh-Durham to explain to his trustees how his perpetually overseeded blue bloods just managed to blow a round one game to an opponent he was allowed to choose.  Imagine Rick Pitino standing at the podium and calling out his own son’s team.

And imagine Wichita State sitting there every year, waiting for their name to be called…and waiting…and waiting…until the final eight seed stands at the podium and says, “well, Wichita State, I guess.  I hate this goddamn format.”

Tell me you wouldn't pony up $19.95 to watch this live.

No, it’ll never happen.

But by God, it SHOULD.