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  1. #1

    The new NCAA Tourney format

    The 10-person NCAA Men's Basketball Committee will be meeting in Indianapolis this week to decide how to expand the NCAA Tournament from 65 teams to 68 teams.

    The explansion is already a done deal ... the debate is over how to incorporate the extra three teams.

    Under last year's format, the tournament included 31 automatic qualifiers and 34 at-large teams. Under the new format the 2011 field will include tha same 31 automatic qualifiers, but the number of at-large teams will incease to 37 teams.

    Under the old format, the two lowest seeded teams in the tournament faced each other in Dayton each year for a play-in game (although the NCAA refused to call it that).

    It's almost certain that under the new format will feature four "play-in" games. But nothing else is certain. When the expansion was approached last spring, the NCAA asked schools and conferences to submit ideas for how to deal with the expansion. I don't think it's oversimplifing to say there are basically two ideas that most schools support:

    (1) Simply have the eight lowest seeds in the tournament play each other to determine who will be the No. 16 seeds and get to face the four number ones.

    (2) Have the eight lowest seeded at large teams play each other -- maybe to determine the No. 12 seeds (that's about where the lowest seeded at large teams usually end up).

    The bigger schools and conferences advocate the first plan -- their argument is "We should remain true to the seeding process".

    Of course, the lowest seeded teams are ALWAYS the champions of small conferences -- the SWAC, the MEAC, the Big South, etc. They are the leagues stuck playing in Dayton every year and they don't like it.

    The smaller schools advocate the second plan. Their argument is that the expansion was to benefit the big leagues (which will gobble up all the extra at-large spots) and they should not ask the smaller conferences to take a hit so that Virginia Tech and Mississippi State (two teams that probably would have benefited last season) can play in the NCAA instead of the NIT.

    Can I offer three factors that I rarely see mentioned in the media when it comes to this issue?

    First, the play-in game (whatever you call it) is financially favorable to the teams (and conferences) which participate. The NCAA awards tourney shares based on participation (one share for each conference team in the field) and for wins (one addition share for each victory per team leading up to the Final Four). Since No. 16 has ever beaten a 1, the play-in game has offered teams a chance to win an extra tourney share since the NCAA treats the play-in game as a real game and it's just as valuable in financial terms as a Sweet 16 win.

    Don't discount the value of that -- some small conference doubles its NCAA payout every year because of the play-in game -- and that's big money in those leagues.

    But is the extra money make up for the humilation of participating in a play-in game? Well, the fact that the small conferences want to escape it tells you that. And the fact that the big conferences don't want to get involved means that they do see the added revenues as that much of a plus.

    The second issue is TV. Over the years, ESPN has televised the play-in game from Dayton to dismal ratings -- more akin to the NIT going on at the same time than to the NCAA bonanza that CBS has two days later.

    It's unlikely that having four Belmont vs. Jackson State games will do anything for the ratings. But if the four play-in games involve big name schools from big time conferences (as the last eight at large teams would be), then the NCAA's TV partners would have a better product to sell.

    The third issue is logistics. Right now, the play-in game is Tuesday night of tourney week with the winner getting to play a true first-round game on Friday -- always.

    But if the four play-in games produce four No. 16s, then two of them would probably have to play on Thursday. Can you see that -- play a killer game on Tuesday night, fly straight to, say, Greensboro for Wednesday's mandated NCAA practice and then play the No. 1 seed on Thursday? It would be the same for two of the four No. 12 seeds, if the committee goes that way.

    I don't know how you get around that -- schedule two play-in games on Monday? Have all four No. 1 seeds at Friday/Sunday sites? Awkward either way.

    Of course, it's always possible that somebody comes up with a third option that would satisfy both sides -- a hybrid of the two plans (in which four lower seeds play for the last two No. 16s and the four lowest at large seeds play for the last two No. 12s)??

    Still, the debate ought to be interesting -- too bad it will be behind close doors.

  2. #2
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    I mentioned this back in an old thread, but it's worth hypothesizing that if the NCAA goes with your first idea -- the lowest overall 8 teams have 4 play-in games -- one of those winners will most likely beat a #1 seed in the not-too-distant future.

    68 teams means 17 teams per region. This means:

    The 17-seeds of 2011 are, essentially, the 16-seeds of 2010.
    The 16-seeds of 2011 are, essentially, the 15-seeds of 2010.

    Taking 2010 as an example, we had a 15-seed (Robert Morris) almost beat a 2-seed (Villanova). Villanova was very much in the mix for a 1 seed. This had legitimate upset potential; it was not a case of lousy seeding. The Selection Committee has gotten much, much better at evaluating low-seeded teams.

    I realize that the best 15-seed in 2010 would stay a 15-seed in 2011, as the bottom 8 teams in this year's tournament were actually:

    15
    15
    15
    16
    16
    16
    16a (play-in)
    16b (play-in)

    So yes, if Robert Morris were considered the best 15-seed in a 68-team field, they'd remain a 15-seed and avoid the play-in game. But it's no longer a stretch to imagine that one of four #1 seeds that happens to start a little rusty might fall to one of 4 play-in winners that has a little momentum. And the concept of a play-in game would no longer seem so humiliating.

    Unrelated point: The second idea -- pitting the lowest at-large teams in play-in games -- would be disastrous for the fill-in brackets. The NCAA knows better than to kill the greatest promotional tool in all of sports.
    Last edited by brevity; 06-27-2010 at 07:39 AM.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by brevity View Post
    Unrelated point: The second idea -- pitting the lowest at-large teams in play-in games -- would be disastrous for the fill-in brackets. The NCAA knows better than to kill the greatest promotional tool in all of sports.
    Never underestimate the NCAA ability to inject stupidity into anything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Olympic Fan View Post
    The third issue is logistics. Right now, the play-in game is Tuesday night of tourney week with the winner getting to play a true first-round game on Friday -- always.

    But if the four play-in games produce four No. 16s, then two of them would probably have to play on Thursday. Can you see that -- play a killer game on Tuesday night, fly straight to, say, Greensboro for Wednesday's mandated NCAA practice and then play the No. 1 seed on Thursday? It would be the same for two of the four No. 12 seeds, if the committee goes that way.

    I don't know how you get around that -- schedule two play-in games on Monday? Have all four No. 1 seeds at Friday/Sunday sites? Awkward either way.

    Of course, it's always possible that somebody comes up with a third option that would satisfy both sides -- a hybrid of the two plans (in which four lower seeds play for the last two No. 16s and the four lowest at large seeds play for the last two No. 12s)??
    Here's one idea: Announce the eight play-in participants before Selection Sunday and have them play on Monday. At the time of the announcement, we won't even need to know who the schools are, just which conference champions will be matched up against which.

    You can't do this if you make the at-large teams play the play-in games because some of their tournaments will naturally finish on Selection Sunday or late Saturday evening. But most of the smaller conferences finish their tournaments a week early or more.

    You're not detracting from Selection Sunday because the teams involved are conference champions; we already know they're in.
    As suburban children we floated at night in swimming pools the temperature of blood. -- Douglas Coupland

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by hurleyfor3 View Post
    Here's one idea: Announce the eight play-in participants before Selection Sunday and have them play on Monday. At the time of the announcement, we won't even need to know who the schools are, just which conference champions will be matched up against which.

    You can't do this if you make the at-large teams play the play-in games because some of their tournaments will naturally finish on Selection Sunday or late Saturday evening. But most of the smaller conferences finish their tournaments a week early or more.

    You're not detracting from Selection Sunday because the teams involved are conference champions; we already know they're in.
    Well reasoned - I like it!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by hurleyfor3 View Post
    Here's one idea: Announce the eight play-in participants before Selection Sunday and have them play on Monday. At the time of the announcement, we won't even need to know who the schools are, just which conference champions will be matched up against which.
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point, but what if one of those teams happens to be really good and deserves a higher seed? How can you determine which teams should play just based on their conferences without actually evaluating the teams?
    Rich
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rich View Post
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point, but what if one of those teams happens to be really good and deserves a higher seed? How can you determine which teams should play just based on their conferences without actually evaluating the teams?
    I'm just speculating, but he might have meant that you will announce the four match-ups, schools and all, before selection sunday, but you don't have to assign them to any particular region until the entire bracket is revealed. In generall, all of the small conference tournaments are done well in advance, so you would already know the champs and could announce it early. If that's true, I'd be on board with it.
    Pratt '09
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by hurleyfor3 View Post
    Here's one idea: Announce the eight play-in participants before Selection Sunday and have them play on Monday. At the time of the announcement, we won't even need to know who the schools are, just which conference champions will be matched up against which.

    You can't do this if you make the at-large teams play the play-in games because some of their tournaments will naturally finish on Selection Sunday or late Saturday evening. But most of the smaller conferences finish their tournaments a week early or more.

    You're not detracting from Selection Sunday because the teams involved are conference champions; we already know they're in.
    This probably won't fly given that the NCAA would have to openly admit that teams from conferences that play tournaments during that last weekend would never be considered for the play-in games. This would certainly be the case every year, but they wouldn't be able to make that a hard rule. There may come a year when every small conferences has one really awesome team (our most recent opponent out of the Horizon League would be a great example), and it may fall apart.

    What about taking this plan but moving selection up to Saturday? I know the ACC has played the championship on Sunday since the dawn of time, but is it such an important tradition?

  9. #9
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    How about if they gave the 4 number 1 seeds a bye in the first round and had the 2's play the 17's etc.?
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  10. #10
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    Talking Need Four Play-In games, One Way or Another

    Quote Originally Posted by OZZIE4DUKE View Post
    How about if they gave the 4 number 1 seeds a bye in the first round and had the 2's play the 17's etc.?
    Doesn't work. Then there are 36 teams in the second round vs. 32. If there are 68 teams, one way or another, there need to be four games played before the regular brackets starts.

    I like the ideas surfaced on this thread, though. It seems like pushing the calendar by pre-announcing some of the play-in games is an interesting idea.

    sagegrouse

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dev11 View Post
    This probably won't fly given that the NCAA would have to openly admit that teams from conferences that play tournaments during that last weekend would never be considered for the play-in games.
    That's a good point, and to take it a step further, the really bad conferences like the SWAC, NEC, etc could move their conference tournaments to that last weekend to try to avoid the play-in games. So I don't think there's any realistic way to announce the play-in teams before the rest of the field.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wander View Post
    That's a good point, and to take it a step further, the really bad conferences like the SWAC, NEC, etc could move their conference tournaments to that last weekend to try to avoid the play-in games. So I don't think there's any realistic way to announce the play-in teams before the rest of the field.
    Too late for that, ESPN has all of those conference tournaments on schedule throughout that week leading up to Selection Sunday. Those conferences like the SWAC get on tv because they don't have to compete with the likes of the Big East and ACC for airtime later in the week.

    If nothing else, ESPN has done a fantastic job of selling us on a host of weeks throughout the year that are just straight college basketball - Feast Week, Rivalry Week, Judgment Week, Championship Week. I'm not complaining, any excuse to show excessive college basketball is fine by me, as long as our Devils are always on!

  13. #13
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    My thought was this: As it is now there are always at least eight one-bid conferences, where seeding does not depend greatly on who wins. So you take the eight weakest conferences and just announce those will be the ones whose champions get Monday play-in games. If we want, we can do this completely objectively according to some sort of published formula.

    I'm thinking the NCAA would announce the "bottom eight" on Thursday or Friday, which for a Monday game is more lead time than play-in teams currently have. Many tournaments will have already finished by then, so in practice there would be no more than two or three "Team TBD" slots.

    Sure, it formalizes the relegation of the weakest conferences, but the current process already does this. (And anyway, let's see your better idea while you're complaining.)
    As suburban children we floated at night in swimming pools the temperature of blood. -- Douglas Coupland

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by hurleyfor3 View Post
    My thought was this: As it is now there are always at least eight one-bid conferences, where seeding does not depend greatly on who wins. So you take the eight weakest conferences and just announce those will be the ones whose champions get Monday play-in games. If we want, we can do this completely objectively according to some sort of published formula.

    I'm thinking the NCAA would announce the "bottom eight" on Thursday or Friday, which for a Monday game is more lead time than play-in teams currently have. Many tournaments will have already finished by then, so in practice there would be no more than two or three "Team TBD" slots.

    Sure, it formalizes the relegation of the weakest conferences, but the current process already does this. (And anyway, let's see your better idea while you're complaining.)
    I'm not really complaining -- if I were, I'd say that 64 teams was just fine. When the 31st conference was formed, the number of at-large teams should have reduced by one, not stayed the same. And bubble teams that don't qualify don't deserve my sympathy. (That goes for Duke as well, if they were in that position.)

    But back in reality, the better plan is for the term "play-in game" to actually mean something. It's ridiculous that automatic qualifiers need to play their way in, while the 7th or 8th best team in a power conference starts play on Thursday or Friday.

    The lowest 8 of the 34 at-large teams need to play their way into the tournament, as 12a and 12b seeds in each region, or whatever. If this means that Mississippi State loses the SEC Tournament final on Sunday and plays again on Tuesday, so be it. They'd prefer that to the NIT anyway.

    Play-in games are Tuesday and Wednesday, and they take place at the respective first-round sites (where the winners would face the 5 seeds two days later). There are some logistics to making sure the four 4/5/12/13 pods are split so that two play on Thursday and two on Friday, but that's not a hard fix.

    I mentioned earlier that this kills the idea of fill-in brackets, but it can be salvaged somewhat if participants are allowed to predict the fate of that winner without actually having to choose the winner. For example, my bracket might say that the Virginia Tech/Illinois winner makes the 3rd round.

  15. #15
    I'm not really complaining -- if I were, I'd say that 64 teams was just fine. When the 31st conference was formed, the number of at-large teams should have reduced by one, not stayed the same. And bubble teams that don't qualify don't deserve my sympathy. (That goes for Duke as well, if they were in that position.)

    But back in reality, the better plan is for the term "play-in game" to actually mean something. It's ridiculous that automatic qualifiers need to play their way in, while the 7th or 8th best team in a power conference starts play on Thursday or Friday.
    I disagree entirely. Simply put, there shouldn't be 31 automatic bids. There shouldn't be 347 NCAA D1 basketball teams, because 200+ teams simply do not have the financial resources to EVER be competitive. Why should the tournament integrity be compromised because weak teams insist on playing with the big boys? Because if you make the last 8 "at large" teams play in, it will have a drastic effect on the competitive balance of the field.

    First thing is, the last 8 at large teams aren't all 12 seeds. They can range from 9 seeds to 13 seeds. So there's a good chance that your 10 and 11 seeds would be weaker than the 12 seeds, which isn't fair to the 5 seeds.

    Another factor is how much benefit the play in teams get for getting the first game. If you look at the Big East tournament, you'll see that teams that play an extra game tend to win at a higher % than their seed indicates (which is why the BE coaches are trying to get rid of double byes). If this trend occurs, you'll have 5 seeds at a disadvantage playing a warmed up team while coming off a week (or even 2 week) layoff.

    I'm sorry that the powers that be haven't set greater barriers to entry to D1. I'm sorry that the NCAA decided to add an addition 4 teams to a perfect tournament. However...do not ruin the bracket b/c it's not "fair" for the weakest teams to have to play in. A play-in game is always for the lowest seeded teams...don't let the notion that they "automatically" qualified change that. Besides...considering that most of these schools rely heavily on their basketball teams to travel around and take beatings for money, the extra NCAA money would be definitely worth it.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by tallguy View Post
    I disagree entirely. Simply put, there shouldn't be 31 automatic bids. There shouldn't be 347 NCAA D1 basketball teams, because 200+ teams simply do not have the financial resources to EVER be competitive. Why should the tournament integrity be compromised because weak teams insist on playing with the big boys? Because if you make the last 8 "at large" teams play in, it will have a drastic effect on the competitive balance of the field.
    You have a brilliant future in college football.

    People who are interested in seeing only basketball teams from power conferences face each other should pay more attention to the conference tournaments. The nobodies in the NCAA first round make it fun. Murray State, most recently. Even Belmont a couple of years ago was fun, provided the proper antacid.

    Quote Originally Posted by tallguy View Post
    First thing is, the last 8 at large teams aren't all 12 seeds. They can range from 9 seeds to 13 seeds. So there's a good chance that your 10 and 11 seeds would be weaker than the 12 seeds, which isn't fair to the 5 seeds.
    Historically, not many at-large teams got a 13 seed. Only Oklahoma 10+ years ago comes to mind. Most are in the 10-12 range, mixed in with automatic qualifiers from mid-tier conferences, but I'll spot you a 9 somewhere for the sake of argument.

    If you believe that, by default, an 11-seed from a power conference is better than an 11-seed from a non-power conference, then I don't know what to tell you. Both have had success, and both have failed miserably. Mixed bag. Kind of the point.

    Quote Originally Posted by tallguy View Post
    Another factor is how much benefit the play in teams get for getting the first game. If you look at the Big East tournament, you'll see that teams that play an extra game tend to win at a higher % than their seed indicates (which is why the BE coaches are trying to get rid of double byes). If this trend occurs, you'll have 5 seeds at a disadvantage playing a warmed up team while coming off a week (or even 2 week) layoff.

    I'm sorry that the powers that be haven't set greater barriers to entry to D1. I'm sorry that the NCAA decided to add an addition 4 teams to a perfect tournament. However...do not ruin the bracket b/c it's not "fair" for the weakest teams to have to play in. A play-in game is always for the lowest seeded teams...don't let the notion that they "automatically" qualified change that. Besides...considering that most of these schools rely heavily on their basketball teams to travel around and take beatings for money, the extra NCAA money would be definitely worth it.
    As I described the 12a/12b thing before, that winner would have a 2-day headstart at the first round site, and already be familiar with that court's quirks. You could consider that a disadvantage to the 5 seeds.

    But remember, once the decision was made to expand to 65, and then 68 teams, the result by its very nature is imperfect. The question becomes: who gets screwed?

  17. #17
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    Question At-Large Teams in the Play-In Games?

    Quote Originally Posted by tallguy View Post
    I disagree entirely. Simply put, there shouldn't be 31 automatic bids. There shouldn't be 347 NCAA D1 basketball teams, because 200+ teams simply do not have the financial resources to EVER be competitive. Why should the tournament integrity be compromised because weak teams insist on playing with the big boys? Because if you make the last 8 "at large" teams play in, it will have a drastic effect on the competitive balance of the field.
    Uhhh.... Wouldn't it make it exactly like it is now? The expansion adds four at-large teams/ If eight at-large teams are in the play-in games, the field of 64 would contain the same number of at-large teams and conference champions as the tournament has had the last few years.

    But many ADs would agree with you about sharing the NCAA loot with the small conference teams.

    sagegrouse

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by sagegrouse View Post
    Uhhh.... Wouldn't it make it exactly like it is now? The expansion adds four at-large teams/ If eight at-large teams are in the play-in games, the field of 64 would contain the same number of at-large teams and conference champions as the tournament has had the last few years.

    But many ADs would agree with you about sharing the NCAA loot with the small conference teams.

    sagegrouse
    Now that is the soundest and simplest explanation of how it should be done, so far. How I see it, though, it's the seeding process that needs to be studied. Today's system seems to combine the seeding with the selection process. How about if the 68 teams were all selected, and announced before the seeding process takes place. Then the top 60 seeds get a by in the first round of four games, one in each region. There. It's done. Don't worry about inconveniences that allow only one day's rest. Take the ACC tourney as an example. Four days in a row. No problem.

    Such a system would guarantee that the eight lowest seeds play each other for what would amount to the 16th seed in each region. Don't call them play-in games. They are first round games. The selection process should rank all 68 teams, and the tourney seedings would then fall right into place. Only the logistical convenience of minimizing travel costs and time should reasonably be considered, but if advantages are handed out, they should lean in favor of the higher seeded team.

    As I get ready to post this, I see that Wander says the exact same thing a little over an hour ago.

  19. #19
    The fairness problem in letting the play-ins play at the venue of the 64-team tourney is, the winner of the play-in gets game experience at the venue. A few years ago (2005?) UW-Milwaukee was playing at the Convention Center in Cleveland as a 12 or 13 seed, and they pulled a few upsets. Why? Because they had played their regular season final game in that same venue, against Cleveland State, for the Horizon League's final game. That's the competitive reason why they play the play-in at a separate venue. (Of course, there are other reasons as well-- like, the venue not being available or ready for another game).

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by brevity View Post
    I mentioned earlier that this kills the idea of fill-in brackets, but it can be salvaged somewhat if participants are allowed to predict the fate of that winner without actually having to choose the winner. For example, my bracket might say that the Virginia Tech/Illinois winner makes the 3rd round.
    Not in my pool you don't!

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