“March Madness,” the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, is great entertainment, like a big summer action-movie blockbuster. As a means of determining a national champion – if by “national champion” we mean “the best team” – it stinks.
My disaffection with March Madness began on the night that many point to as the shining example of why the tournament is so great – Villanova’s legendary upset of Georgetown in 1985. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice that season in the Big East. And so ’Nova wins one out of three times, and they’re the national champs?
An even worse example happened at the Division II level with A&M-Commerce in 2005. Sam Walker’s Lions beat Tarleton State twice in the regular season, once in the Lone Star Conference tournament, and then lost to the Texans in the round of eight, sending Tarleton to the Final Four. It is unreasonable to require Team A to beat Team B four times. The first three should establish to everyone’s satisfaction who is the best team.
(My attitude on this is not limited to March Madness. There are now excessive playoffs in every sport, even Major League Baseball. And don’t start me talking about high-school football.)
Of course, this is an utterly futile exercise in grousing. There’s no going back, too much television programming and advertising revenue at stake. But the tournament as a true determiner of a champion would be much better with half the number of teams. I believe I saw this week that there are 32 automatic qualifiers as conference champions. Perfect. If you did not win your conference, how can you be the national champion? Have a good time in the NIT.