Ok, the bubbling point has been reached.
I have been reading about the NCAA tournament expanding to 96 teams. Essentially, as I am to understand, they are adding 32 teams and giving the top 32 teams a bye. Again, to boil that down, that means they are folding the NIT into the current tournament and allowing the top 32 teams to have a game off.
My god. This sounds to me like more basketball... more competitive, lose-and-you're-out basketball. In March. So what, pray tell, is the problem here?
ESPN is predictably going bonkers over this, and it's not hard to figure out why. They make not a single penny from the tournament, so they are quick to put it down. Pat Forde was "interviewed" (by a network he works for) and called it a "catastrophe". Adding more basketball that matters is a catastrophe? Have we all lost our minds?
Let me run down what I perceive as the major gripes against all sports, amateur and professional, in this country (note: I am typing this from Hawaii, so we're BARELY in America, but still)
NFL - I don't know that there really is a gripe for the NFL. The television coverage is awesome. The sport just keeps getting bigger and better. The teams are balanced, and parity is everywhere. I guess the one knock could be that players don't get paid enough. But that shouldn't count. Really, I think the NFL is as well run as they come.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL - The BCS is by far the worst post-season system in any sport, at any level.
NBA - The season is too long, and it doesn't matter. The playoffs are too long. The officiating is as horrible as it has ever been in any sport anywhere in the world and that includes South American soccer where they used to threaten refs with murder. There are too many teams and too many stupid GMs.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL - The talent pool is smaller because the best players jump to the NBA too early. Coaches like Bob Huggins don't give a shit now, nor have they EVER given a shit, if their players graduate. Awful human beings like Rick Pitino are lauded as heroes in this game.
NHL - It is a regional, niche sport that expanded way too fast and too recklessly. 3/4's of the teams should be in Canada. The playoffs are so awesome, that they just make the regular season that much stupider. The goalies wear too much padding.
COLLEGE HOCKEY - It is followed and watched by enough people to fill the lower deck at a Wolves game.
MLB - The commissioner is a dunder-headed stink-licker who bends the entire sport's financial structure to the whim of the owners. The economic disparity between teams ensures that while spending money does not guarantee success, NOT spending money guarantees failure. Otherwise, all other gripes about the game are petty and usually made by nerds.
Now, this isn't meant to be comprehensive or to say one is better than the other. The point of all this is that nowhere in these complaints will you find that there are too many intense games that are do-or-die. Other sports would KILL for the pressure and awesomeness of an NCAA tournament. Hockey comes close, especially in overtime, because everything about the game gets turned up a notch. NBA playoffs are fun, yes, but the early rounds are just tune-ups for the good teams. And the games really only matter in the last half of the last quarter. But tournament basketball is foot-on-gas-pedal, all the time. Can the Gophers take the first half off and still beat teams like Penn State in the tournament? Nope, Xavier is going to crush them.
So, seriously, I don't get it. I don't get what I'm missing. The arguments laid down by commentators are laughable. They trot out the whole "THE KIDS WILL MISS A WEEK OF SCHOOL" bit... as if any sane adult pretends that student athletes in any major sport are students at all. Look, some of them get great grades and some of them fail hard and don't get allowed to play basketball (COUGH*ALNOLEN*COUGH). Just like in real school. The smart ones find ways to bring textbooks on planes and keep up with their work via email. The dumb ones coast along and get Jan to write papers. It's a billion times more prevalent in football. So don't talk about them missing school, please. I miss WORK, and many millions other do as well, to watch these games. The players can afford to miss a lab or two.
Another common argument is the old "THE REGULAR SEASON WON'T MATTER ANYMORE". Wow, that's garbage. First of all, how much the regular season matters won't change at all. You're talking about MORE teams, not less. Northwestern was a bubble team this year, and did not make it in. They would likely have been a "bubble" team regardless of if the field was 96 or 64. But had they made it into the field of 96, they might win A game, but never two, and definitely would eventually get dominated by a much better team. But here's the thing.... you're talking about allowing 31 OTHER teams like Northwestern into the tournament. You think ONE of those is eventually going to take down UNC and leave Roy with that shit-mouth frown he pulls when his teams go pee on themselves down the stretch like they always do? YES, YES, OH HELL YES. More opportunities to take down the Stanfords, Dukes and UCLAs are always welcome. So, to circle back to the point... how much does the regular season matter RIGHT NOW? Well, every year someone in the ACC (like Wake) loses like 4 games all year and goes in with a high seed. And they get railed by UTEP or whatever because the Miners try harder. So are you telling me Wake is going to work less hard during the season? What would that get them? The beauty of a tournament is just that - that the regular season matters to seeding and selection - but once the ball is tipped, it's game on buster brown. You may have beaten USC-Upstate by 60 points, but Morgan State is mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.
Coach K is talking about guaranteeing a spot for the regular season winners, as well as tournament winners of the big conferences. Gold. Go for it. More cinderellas, more upsets, more quality teams matched up with shakey, middle-of-the-conference, just-barely-beat-Michigan-at-home-and-probably-would-lose-to-South-Dakota teams. Get them in there and watch them get reality-checked.
See, this is the same thing that would happen if they allowed it in football. Sure, at the beginning, Florida and Alabama and Texas would still roll. But eventually smart coaches would start putting together game plans and surprising them in the early rounds of the tournament. Oh, Mack Brown, you took it for granted that you drew Uconn in the first round? Well, now they're running the punt-block, ON EVERY DOWN.
We're Americans. We love the "one and done" of tournament play. Games 4 and 5 are so meaningless in NBA and MLB playoffs. When it goes to 7, that's magic. Anything else might as well be pre-season.
Honestly folks, tell me what I'm missing. More basketball is better, right? Even if the crappier teams make it in (to see UNC do in the tournament what it is doing in the NIT right now would flare up my bowels), I still see more pressure on the elite teams, and more opportunities for the little guys, and that - in essence - is what sets the NCAA tournament apart from every other postseason system in the country.