Did I hear Jay Wright give completely backwards priorities in defending an expanded NCAA tournament yesterday on PTI?
“There are so many good teams that are not getting into this tournament,” Wright said. “In college football, close to 50% of the teams go to bowl games, and they’re rewarded for a great season. In college basketball, only about 18% of the teams go to the NCAA tournament.” And that’s a GOOD THING. The NCAA tournament selects only the cream of the crop. Adding more teams will not introduce teams with a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning the whole thing. It will just devalue the regular season more. We don’t need college basketball becoming more like bowl games in football where there are more bowl games than anyone could possibly care about – or like the playoffs in the NBA or NHL.
“As great as the NIT is, and everything else, if you don’t go to the NCAA tournament you’re perceived as having a poor season,” Wright added. “You just get on the bubble and you don’t get in and your season is looked at as a failure, your team looks at it as a failure, your alumni do, when really, you had a great season, you just got caught on the bubble.” Then is the problem with the tournament, or with the perception? As I said last week, perhaps we should change the perception before we change the tournament? That’s it, I’m blogging the NIT, CBI, and CIT starting next week. They’re the equivalent of the lesser bowls and I’m going to treat them as such.
Part of the problem is that Wright doesn’t understand the appeal of the tournament. Adding more teams that, in his mind, “deserve” to be in may improve the quality of play, but no one gives a rat’s ass about the quality of play. We care about Cinderella, and they will be less impressive in a 96-team field. Most people don’t watch March Madness because they care about college basketball, they watch because they care about the tournament, and ruining the appeal of the tournament ruins the one reason a lot of people care about college basketball at all. It may be good for kids’ egos (and coaches’ jobs) but it isn’t good for the tournament and it certainly isn’t good for college basketball as a whole. Perhaps a larger issue is that Villanova plays in the FCS for football, so Wright isn’t very intimately familiar with the debates surrounding a playoff in college football. He doesn’t realize that a lot of people already don’t consider the basketball regular season “exciting”, they consider it irrelevant to the tournament, he’s not very familiar with the great college football regular season and how it makes basketball pale in comparison, and he’s not all that familiar with the insight that has become very apparent in that debate: less really is more.