April 1, 2010

Great Moments In Hypocrisy

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.


Dickfer said...

I like how the Big East does their post-season tournament with the top third teams getting a double bye. Don't know how that could translate to the Big Dance. Maybe have 4 play-in games in Dayton on Tuesday. Reward the 1 seeds even more. I don't know. I'll take Pine Bluff one on these years.

Dave Snizewski said...

I have two problems with the expansion...

1) The reason they're doing it is purely money. Not for competition. Not for less selection committee robbery. It's purely financial which bothers me in principle.

2) I don't think having 32 more teams like the Gophers in the tournament is necessarily a good thing. I'm afraid it might make arguably the most successful tournament in sports less meaningful.

That being said, I'm all for MORE basketball in March. I just don't know if I'm in love with the idea(yet).

Sam said...

A senior member of the Gophers backcourt has class with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays but hasn't been available to attend since their tournament run ended.

Tubby doesn't care:

#1 Navy 98%
#2 Boston College 96%
#3 Notre Dame #95%
#4 Stanford 94%
#5 Wake Forest 93%
#5 Duke 93%
#5 Air Force 93%

Big time programs at the bottom:
#204 Alabama 44%
#204 Minnesota 44%
#204 Cal 44%
#214 Georgia 41%
#216 Texas 40%
#217 Arizona 39%


Say what you will about Bobby Knight, his kids actually graduated.

NCAA basketball needs one thing above all else: For the NBA to raise its eligibility requirement to 21 years old and 3 years out of High School. If the kids can't score a 820 and carry a 2.5 GPA in sports management, they can go to the NBDL and enjoy winters in lovely Sioux Falls.

All the criticism I've heard of the planned expansion is at best misguided. Concerns over the regular season being devalued can be addressed with the opening round byes and no one grows up dreaming about hitting that last second shot to win the NIT title. If those kids from Dayton could trade places with Northern Iowa, I think they would in a heart beat.

The only argument I'll accept is that younger teams gain experience by going deep into the NIT and get up to an extra 3 weeks of practice, etc. A fair enough point except that it precludes those teams from playing meaningful games against top teams. That sort of experience is much more important in my opinion and much more exciting to watch.


As far as pro sports, I am now convinced that the NHL, MLB and NFL should all introduce a promotion and relegation system with two sets of playoffs. The tradition format for the championship and a lower level promotion tournament. Losing teams will be desperate to avoid relegation and most importantly teams like the KC Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders wouldn't be able to free ride off of the rest of the league. It may sound far fetched but the fact is that teams are valued based on market size, not success, so it doesn't befront Daniel Snyder if the NFL allows new teams into the lower tier because unserved markets will always be the first to attract new teams. This would mean that anyone who wanted to could start a team in Los Angeles or wherever, sign players and play against relegated NFL teams. The barrier to entry into ownership would be lower but it would also mean a shit ton of additional games and TV money for existing owners and the possibility of getting rid of owners like Al Davis. Recently relegated and promoted teams could be phased in and out of their full share of league revenue over the course of a few seasons and the off season would be even more exciting given that free agents could be wooed to lower level teams looking to move up. It would also mean that cities which lose teams to relocation could immediately start new teams ala Green Bay and have EPL Style publicly owned teams.