March Madness should include all 32 NCAA regular season conference champions instead of the format in which the conference tourney winners get the 31 automatic bids to college basketball’s Big Dance.
The Ivy League’s regular season champs and the 31 tourney champs make up the 32 automatic bids, 46 percent out of the 68 teams that make it. The remaining 36 teams are selected at large by the NCAA Selection Committee.
This season, 28 of the tourney spots went to four top-ranked conferences, with each league putting in seven teams. Five other conferences put in 17 teams.
A total of 20 regular season conference champions didn’t win their conference tourneys, and 11 of them were left out of the NCAA tourney with their conferences on the lower end of the rankings.
So a team that won three or four games in four days, got a bid ahead of a team that has played each team in their conference twice over a two-month period while earning its league title. Which do you think is harder to do?
It appears that currently winning the regular season championship is of very little value unless a team is in one of the higher-ranked conferences that get two or more teams in the tourney.
The NCAA should really look at switching this unfair format by having the regular season champions get the automatic bids. What frequently occurs now is that if a regular season champ also wins the conference tourney in a highly ranked conference, then the tourney runner-up also gets a bid to the NCAA tourney, which hurts the conferences with just one team in the tourney.
A look at some of this year’s upsets from conferences that had only one team in the NCAA tourney shows that these one-bid conferences can compete with conferences that send two or more teams. No. 15 Middle Tennessee of Conference USA (ranked 22) beat No. 2 Michigan State of the Big Ten (fifth), and No. 14 Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference (29th) defeated No. 3 West Virginia of the Big 12 (first). No. 12 Yale of the Ivy League (16th) eliminated No. 5 Baylor of the Big 12 (second), and No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock of the Sun Belt Conference (17th) beat No. 2 Purdue of the Big Ten (fifth).
Unfortunately, even the intelligent Ivy league will change its current format and will have a tourney with its top four teams next season, with the tourney champ getting the automatic NCAA. That means all 32 conferences will have the unfair format next season.
The upsets that many fans relish happen more in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. This year, there were eight in the opening round and only two in the second round. The seedings or rankings of teams and their conferences is the RPI (Rating Percentage Index). It is the NCAA’s version of the Maine Heal point system for high school basketball as it is not truly fair unless teams play identical schedules.
That is another compelling reason why the regular season conference champs should get the automatic bid instead of the tourney champs.
With the NCAA tourney coming to a close with next weekend’s Final Four, this is my last column of the basketball season. It’s been another enjoyable season, and I appreciate your comments — positive and negative — and look forward to returning next season.
Have a safe and happy spring and summer!