New NCAA format: Interesting, and perplexing


For one thing, I was quite relieved (if you want to call it that) a few months ago when I learned that the NCAA basketball tournament would expand by 3 teams and not 31.  A 96-team NCAA Tournament (which is still probably coming someday) would be so big as to be a ridiculous farce, but that’s for another article.

The NCAA, intellectual titans that they are, announced the new 68-team format yesterday and while it moved a little bit in the direction I wanted, it didn’t fix the one problem I had with the old tournament.  The old play-in game, as you know, pitted the 64th and 65th teams in the field against one another; these teams, of course, were low-major automatic-qualifiers who won their conference tournament to get there.  I agree with Clark of The ACC & SEC Blog in that any play-in games should be contested by the last at-large bids in the field, and I’ve always felt that way.  Now that we essentially have four play-in games, the committee has decided to make two of them as the lowest overall seeds against each other and the other two as the last few at-larges against one another. 

Now we’ll have the last four overall seeds (65 to 68) in the tournament — which will all be low-major conference tournament champions — knock each other out while the last four at-larges (probably including a few BCS-conference schools) do the same.  So instead of one conference tournament winner getting nuked before the round of 64 (which will now be called the second round), now there will be two.  Then, at the same time, they’ll confuse us by having some at-larges wiped out.

The NCAA has decided to go for the a-little-from-column-A, a-little-from-column B compromise approach with regards to the new first round (they can call it the “first round” all they like; it’s pretty much four play-in games).  I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to me, as I’d have preferred them to either go one way or the other in deciding which teams play in those games.  Either make it all at-larges in the “First Four” or all low-majors.

What we’re going to get is a kind of strange bracket with “first round” winners getting plugged into different seeds.  For example, the “low-major” play-in winners get slotted into the old 1-16 games, while the “at-large” play-in winners probably get shoved into 5-12 matchups.  Then the committee has to decide who plays in those games and what lucky SOBs to play the winners of those games shortly thereafter.  Like just about everything the NCAA does, it seems needlessly complicated.

Only by the hand of divine providence will their meddling stop here (at 68), but we all know it won’t.  The NCAA’s greed and hubris will eventually suck the fun out of this exciting sporting spectacle.