June 27, 2006

Dancin' with Expansion

Came across this article in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday about a possible NCAA Tournament expansion.

Quick flash poll. Any thoughts on this? I am curious to hear some perspective from ND fans on this one because we are one of the schools that could have benefited from a few extra slots in the Big Dance over the last few years. It puts our fanbase in a unique position to gauge this idea because, unlike UConn and Carolina fans, we have actually been sweating it out on that bubble.

Personally, even as a Notre Dame fan, I’m completely opposed to the idea. And I have my reasons.

1. Expansion would devalue the regular season

Yea, I know this argument gets brought up by college football and basketball “purists” all the time, and people are tired of hearing these doomsday projections about how regular seasons won’t matter anymore if changes are made to the postseason formats. With that said, isn’t there some truth to the argument?

I think so. The best part of the college hoops season is during that late February and early March period when every night there are big games with tournament implications. I love following all the “Bubble Watch” and “Bracketology” stuff on the internet, arguing with friends about mid-majors vs. power teams, and all the other buildup leading to Selection Sunday. It’s one of my two or three favorite sports seasons of the year. I’d be bummed to see that go away. If you expand the tournament, the bubble essentially goes away. Let’s say a mediocre Alabama team beats LSU on the road on a Tuesday night in late February. With the present format, that is a huge statement win for them and means a lot for their NCAA Tournament chances. After expansion? Alabama is probably already dancing, so the game loses a little luster. It’s still a big win for Alabama and their fans, but the regular season suddenly becomes a little less interesting for college hoops fans in general.

2. Tournament Dilution

Let’s say this expansion idea goes down. Who are we really adding here? 17-12 teams with bad strength of schedules and losing conference records? Small conference schools that are already overrepresented as it is? Why on Earth does anyone want to see those teams in the Big Dance?

In the end, that’s the biggest reason I am not in favor of this thing. As it stands now, making the NCAA Tournament is a big deal. The small schools have truly accomplished something, and the big schools have distinguished themselves by getting the invite. If you expand this thing any further, it cheapens the whole thing. I know that ND has been squeezed a few times recently, but did we really “deserve” to be dancing? The 2005 team lost to Rutgers in the first round of the BET and looked like it could care less about continuing the season. The 2004 team was an average team at best. Those teams could have made a case for being in the tournament, but I sure as heck didn’t consider it some sort of injustice that they were left out.

Maybe I’m just a patient type, but I’d rather it mean something when ND gets back to the Big Dance and not just be some charity case. If we get in now, it's a source of pride. It should remain that way in the future.

3. Coaches in favor of this proposal just want a safety net

If you manage to wade through all the rhetoric being bandied about by college basketball coaches championing this idea, you get to the heart of the matter. Coaches want expansion because they are pissing down their leg about missing the NCAA Tournament and want a guaranteed safety net. They want to be able to say that they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament 7 times in the last 9 years. By expanding the tournament, it makes their job a whole lot easier. Coach (Insert mediocre big conference head coach) doesn’t have that “failed to make the NCAAs 3 out of the last 4 years” tag hanging over him anymore because pretty much everyone with a pulse is getting in.

I understand where those guys are coming from, but I still don’t support the idea. Notice how the idea is only getting support from the “bubble” coaches. You don’t see Calhoun, Roy, and Kryskewski jumping on this proposal. They sure as heck don’t want to have to play an additional tournament game against some undeserving run-of-the-mill squad. Adding another round strikes me as unnecessary. It would drag along the tournament, and dilute the field.

The tournament is perfect as it stands. Buildup in the regular season, meaningful conference tournaments, 65 teams, 6 rounds, one champion. It’s the best tournament in the world (yes World Cup fans, read that last sentence again.). Leave it alone.

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