As we all have been entranced by the La Salle Explorers and their run to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it is time to acknowledge this:
That the Explorers were the second-to-last team in the 68-team field...
...and that they have won three games so far...
...and that it would have been a crime if they had missed out on the tournament...
...and that if all of the above are true, and if you have an ounce of intellectual honesty about you, then it is time to expand the field of the tournament.
Purists hate the idea, I know. But the truth is that the tournament has not grown with the growth of the sport, and it has not grown to recognize the parity in the sport. The greatest impediment to expanding the field is the almighty bracket, a social gambler’s delight. Well, OK.
But what should take precedence, the neatness of your bracket or the right thing?
Let’s try for the right thing.
My proposal would fall into a couple of categories that would help the sport on any number of levels. Here goes:
There will be 33 conferences next season when the Big East splits. Each of those conferences should receive an automatic bid -- but it should go to the regular season champion of the league, not the tournament champion. There is no question this would create a better field. No one can argue the point. So that’s 33 spots.
Next, apportion 18 more automatic bids based upon the results of conference tournaments. That’s right -- take it out of the hands of the selection committee and place an added importance on the conference tourneys. Based upon a formula that takes into account past performance and current realities after realignment, we would give out those bids this way: two apiece for the Big 10, Big East, New Big East, Pac 10, Big 12, ACC and SEC, and one apiece to the Atlantic 10 and three other leagues. The numbers could adjust every year, based on some performance average. In some cases, this would require leagues to play third-place games at their conference tournaments. Good for them.
That means 51 spots are taken. For the remaining 13 spots in the bracket, I propose 39 teams would play-in for the privilege of claiming them. But here is the thing: of those 39 spots, 22 would go to the teams in the traditional one-bid leagues that either won the conference tournament or lost in the final to the regular season champion. The other 17 would be decided by the selection committee. Those are the only 17 teams in the field that the committee would pick. All of them would be from the 11 best leagues, and the reality is that almost all of them would be from the seven biggest leagues.
Of the 39 play-in teams, 13 would get a first-round bye and wait for the other 26 to play a game. It would take 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, and you would need three sites to host the games. By late Tuesday night, 90 teams would be down to 64, and away we would go with games on Thursday/Saturday and Friday/Sunday.
That’s a 90-team tournament. It would get done in three calendar weeks. It would include all regular season conference champions. It would allow the small conferences and middling conferences more of a chance to play into the tournament, recognizing parity and also the unfairness of the current system, which gives so much of a scheduling advantage to teams in the big conferences. It would still be dominated by the best teams from the football conferences. It would place more of the selection decisions in the hands of the teams themselves -- and add import to the conference tournaments -- and decrease the power of the selection committee.
And it would preserve the bracket. Currently, four spots are decided by first-round games and everybody seems OK with it. In my system, 13 spots would be decided that that way. Everybody’s bracket could be assembled on Tuesday night and Wednesday -- hell, degenerates could even do a play-in bracket.
The biggest public relations difference? You might have to start calling it Selection Saturday. But is that too much to give up in order to make sure that a team with La Salle’s ability and potential does not get shut out in the future?