Another March Madness has come, and again we hear cries to change the 68-team format. Some are begging for a 96 team field, more wild cards, or other changes. Frankly, I think March Madness is one of the best tournament systems in existence, and doesn't really need fixing. Nevertheless, some point out a few weaknesses:
(1) Some teams that are left out are clearly better than some teams that get in. No matter what format, some team will see its bubble burst. That's life. With a 68-team format, if you don't get in, it's your fault: win more games. However, if you added just one more team to the tournament, they would probably get a 12 or 13 seed. What does that say about all the 14-16 seeds who do get in?
(2) Many first round (er - excuse me, second round) match ups are not very compelling. No 16 seed has ever won a single game. Only four 15 seeds have. 14 seeds aren't much better off. So you basically worked all year for a chance to go to the NCAA, and you are doomed from the start.
(3) Almost half the field goes home after playing just one game. About 3/4's go home after two. Your season is over quickly. Teams that do lose don't even have a chance to go on to play in the NIT, CBI, CTI or other tournament.
In addition, the conference tournaments before the NCAA's are a joke. You've battled all year to be at the top of your conference, now you have to play the 8th place 8-21 team that you've already pummeled twice for the "real" conference championship? Give me a break. We know the only purpose for the tournaments is to get an upset so you can get both your regular season and tournament champion in the brackets. This is the only place I know where you can win your conference and still not be recognized as the winner - go figure.
Here's a proposal to address all these issues: replace the lame conference tournaments with a national qualifying tournament. Here's how it could work:
(1) At the end of the regular season, the top 128 teams would be selected for the qualifiers. This would include at least two teams from every confrence, plus a bunch of at-larges. This would include all the teams who would have a legitimate shot of winning the tournaments anyway. If your bubble bursts on this one, you definitely deserve to be popped.
(2) The 128 teams would be divided into 16 different 8-team brackets. Teams from the same conference would be in different brackets.
(3) Each bracket would play off in typical 8-4-2-1 fashion. The winner of each bracket would go to the NCAA tournament and get a first round bye (1-4 seed). The runner up also would go the tournament, but not get a first round bye (5-12 seed).
(4) The losers in each bracket would play off in a consolation bracket. The winner of the consolation bracket would also go to the NCAA tournament with a 5-12 seed.
(5) The NCAA tournament would be reduced to a 48-team format, with 32 teams playing the first round, with first round winners playing the top 16 teams.
(6) The 16 runner ups in the consolation brackets, plus the first round losers in the NCAA tournament would play in the NIT tournament.
So, how does this address the weaknesses?
(1) Good teams left out: 128 teams would have a chance to EARN their way into the NCAA tournament. Good teams would be left out only if they lost two games.
(2) Bad first round match ups: First round NCAA tourney games would feature at worst a 5-12 seed match up. These would all be good compelling games.
(3) Go home too soon: The qualifying tournament would be a chance for every selected team to play at least two games. First round NCAA tourney losers could still play in the NIT.
(4) Terrible conference tournaments: These would be replaced with a compelling qualifying tournament. With a first round NCAA bye on the line, every team will be doing its best to win. Losing teams will be scrapping for the precious consolation bracket win. Plus, you'd get to see interconference match ups against the "big boys," not just the cream of the Southland Conference. There'd be plenty of Cinderella stories. Each conference would have a chance to send a bunch of teams to the tournament IF they win - putting a lot of bragging rights on the line.
Sounds like it would work to me - far better than a stupid 96 team tournament.