Monday, July 12, 2010

March Madness Surprise

The NCAA announced the new 68-team format. And yes, there's a twist.

Earlier this year, the tournament committee declared that it would be expanding from a 65-team field to 68 teams. This was certainly a much better alternative to extreme expansion; there were rumors that 96 or even 128 teams would be invited to next year's tournament.

But the incorporation of these new teams had not yet been decided. Until today. The tournament will kick off with a "First Four" round, with 8 teams playing preliminary qualifiers. Instead of having these games decide all four 16 seeds, two games will consist of the lowest 4 seeds and two more will include the last four at-large bids.

So what does this mean? Well, we'll see two games that are highly reminiscent of this year's Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Winthrop showdown (instead of just one). But in addition, instead of watching Joe Lunardi whine about the "first four out," these four teams will be trying to play their way in. The lowest seeds are typically reserved for mid-majors, so the two winners will likely wind up with 10 seeds.

Personally, I like this idea. The NCAA chose it because it is a fair compromise between mid-majors and at-larges. But compromise shmompromise. I like it because it will create more drama for the fan. Imagine if we got to see Arizona State vs. Illinois or Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State for the last spot in the field of 64. Would've been nuts.

Of course, you can expand the field as large as you want, and there will always be a "first four out." But at least this way, some decisions get made on the court, not in a boardroom.

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