March Madness creates the most exciting basketball you’ll see all year and that encompasses the NBA as well. From Cinderellas of the past like the Butler teams in 2010 and 2011 that made back-to-back national championships as No. 8 and 5 seeds, to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers of 2018 who became the first ever 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed.
Considering that, this article is not a knock on the tournament, but it showcases things that are inherently wrong with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and a 68 team, single elimination format.
#1 Play-in games (The First 4)
In 2011, the NCAA tournament added four teams to the 64-team format. For the NCAA, more games means more money. When making this decision, it’s like they didn’t care to ruin the symmetry and fairness of having four branches of 16 teams. The NCAA has two teams compete for a 16 seed and 2 others for an 11 seed.
If you fill out an NCAA bracket, you’ll notice the “First Four” aren’t games you even choose from, which further justifies the point the games aren’t viewed as actual tournament games. Also, why do two teams that are supposed to be ranked 11 compete to get in? We have the other one seeds and higher minus the 16 seed play-in game, getting a one-game advantage. If the NCAA wanted to make any sense out of this mess, the “First Four” would actually be the first four teams in the tournament over the teams that just missed the tournament.
#2 The regular season has low stakes
Again, 68 teams make the tournament so there is room for any decent Division I team. If the team is in a major conference like the Big 10 all you need to do is go a few games over .500. and you can qualify. Ohio State who went 20-15 got an 11 seed. Even worse, automatic qualifying conference tournaments like our very own Horizon League tournament enables mediocre teams to get hot at the end of the year and make the tournament with a sub-par record and difficulty of schedule.
In 2005, Before Oakland was in the Horizon League, they made the tournament with a record of 13-18; I can’t imagine the number of teams that were better in terms of record and on the court that got robbed. The NCAA might as well call everything until March the pre-season.
#3 The Athletes Take Home Zero Dollars
This issue is an NCAA wide issue, but let’s focus on the tournament specifically. With $10 billion being bet on the games and the tournament creating $1 billion in revenue in 2017 with projections saying it’ll stay on the rise in 2019 and beyond, how can we not pay the players?
So that makes me mad, but what irks me more is athletes are not allowed to make money via sponsorships or sales of memorabilia. Who is to say you can’t make money on your own time? The NCAA tournament could, and should, act as a springboard for the players’ basketball careers and finances.