Musings of a Moose

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The NCAA finally got around to expanding the March Madness field. This guy right here isn't so stoked.

You know those Cinderella stories that everyone loves so much? Yeah, you're going to be seeing a lot fewer glass slippers in the years to come.

Proponents of expansion love to harp on the new field of 68 teams as - opposed to 65 - will open up the tournament to more mid-majors. Assuming that the three additional teams would come from the four would-be No. 1 seeds in the NIT, that statement is blatantly false.

Over the past five years, teams from mid-major conferences accounted for only three of the 20 top seeds. In 2010, all four of them were from BCS conferences.

Not only will these teams likely be from power conferences that already have a large number of bids, but they will also be awarded with seeds in the No. 13 to 14 range. Everyone else gets pushed back in the pecking order.

Tournament winners of non-BCS conferences are usually the ones seeded between No. 13 and 16. Giving these squads a lower seed makes the task of getting past the first round much more difficult.

On the first day of this year's tournament, fans were treated to No. 14 Ohio, champions of the Mid-American Conference tournament, toppling No. 3 Georgetown. Hypothetically speaking, if Ohio were to play in a 68-team field they would instead be going up against a two-seed.

Since 1985 - when the tournament expanded from 53 to 64 teams - there have been only four times when the No. 15 seed won its first round game. Call me a pessimist, but I'm not a big fan of those odds.

You have to go back to 2001 for the last time it happened, when small-time Hampton University took Iowa State by surprise.

From there, it only gets worse for the little guy. Under the new format, there will be four play-in games to determine each of the No. 16 seeds.

I can assure you that all eight of the squads involved in the play-in games will be tournament winners from non-BCS conferences. Winning your conference tournament is supposed to mean a guaranteed bid to the NCAA tournament. Technically speaking, the play-in games are part of the tournament, but the average fan doesn't see it that way.

March Madness is far and away my favorite sporting event, and I try to catch every game possible. But even I haven't seen a single play-in game - first instituted in 2001 - and I'm going to take a wild guess and say that neither have you.

Let's be honest; no one really wants to see Arkansas-Pine Bluff duking it out with Winthrop (this year's play-in match-up). Those games lack the "David vs. Goliath" element that drives the NCAA tournament.

The players and fans of these teams deserve to be given a real March Madness experience. An experience that is marked by hype, hooplah, and if you're really lucky, Gus Johnson's angelic voice.

The play-in experience is nothing to write home about. These games are played out in front of a small crowd and a miniscule TV audience. For crying out loud, CBS didn't even bother to buy the rights to this year's play-in game; unlike the other 63 games, the match-up between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop found itself on ESPN.

Those teams deserve better. They should be out playing alongside the big boys on Thursdays and Fridays, getting the shot they rightfully earned by winning their conference tournaments.

But maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the NCAA. An increase of three teams isn't too bad when you put it into perspective. I mean it's not like they're talking about expanding the field to some 90-odd teams. (Wait, what's that you say? They are? Oh Lord, don't even get me started.)

Tags: MUSINGS OF A MOOSE, MARCH MADNESS


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