Tuesday, March 15, 2016

One Easy Fix for the First Four: Only At-Large Teams

The First Four has ruined the integrity of the NCAA Tournament.

first four dayton
When the tournament expanded to 68 teams, more at-large teams were added. Yet, the First Four play-in games don’t feature only at-large teams. There are 4 #16 seeds battling it out for the right to get slaughtered by a #1 seed. These games are pointless, meaningless and have led to a plethora of matchups that should never happen because all the seeds are off.

A 64-team field or a 68-team field has the same number of automatic qualifiers. But the addition of two play-in games for the four worst teams has bumped teams from one-bid leagues down a spot on the seed line

Let’s look at the 12 worst teams in the tournament. In a 64-team field, those would be your #16, #15 and #14 seeds. However, a 68-team field has 6 #16 seeds. So of those 12 worst teams, you have 6 #16 seeds, 4 #15 seeds and only 2 #14 seeds.

That means in every bracket, there are 2 #16 seeds should actually be #15 seeds, 2 #15 seeds should actually be #14 seeds and so on and so forth.

Doesn’t it feel like there have been more upsets recently? Though parity is a driving factor, one cannot discount the incorrect seeding of Cinderella’s.

Let’s revisit the 2012 tournament, when two #15 seeds took down #2 seeds in the span of a few hours. In terms of overall seeding, Norfolk State was a true #15 seed when it defeated Missouri. However, Lehigh was the 9th worst team in the field. In a 64-team bracket, they would have been a #14 seed. Since there was a First Four, Lehigh and CJ McCollum was bumped down a line and ask Duke if that was a just reward for a great season.

The most maddening aspect of this bracket nonsense is the simplicity of the solution. It would benefit every single entity involved to remove the terrible 16 vs. 16 games and make the First Four feature only the last 8 at-large teams.

In my opinion, an automatic berth should get you an automatic berth to the proper NCAA Tournament. You can call these games in Dayton whatever you want, it’s not the same for a 16 seed to play one game against another small school as getting that one shot at North Carolina or Kansas.

In addition to unfairly punishing the athletes on these small schools, the First Four has become a landing spot for a HBCU on a near-annual basis. If you’ve followed the painful decline of HBCU athletics, you know how much a game for Southern against a #1 seed would mean.

From a television perspective, it makes zero sense to put out two teams with zero national awareness on a Tuesday night and expect people to watch. It has been proven on an annual basis that the early 16 vs. 16 game struggles to hit 1 million viewers, while the late game between at-large teams routinely doubles that number.

The last four at-large teams into the field were Temple, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and VCU. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out people would rather watch Syracuse play on Tuesday night than Holy Cross?

Furthermore, the split between at-large play-in games and 16 vs. 16 games ruins the integrity of individual brackets compared to others. This year, for example, Virginia’s East region only has 16 teams. North Carolina’s East regional has 18 – even though UNC was a better overall seed.

The probability of winning a bracket goes down, even if slightly, by the addition of more teams. Why does UNC get a bracket with two potential 11 seeds to get hot while Virginia only has to deal with one?

Lastly, can we give the people of Dayton a better product? The city of Dayton is quite possibly the only city in America that would support the First Four as constructed. Telling you right now, if two 16 seeds were playing across the street in the Verizon Center, I doubt I’d make the walk. But Dayton sells 10,000 tickets every year and good for them. Still, maybe they’d be more interested in Syracuse/Michigan than FGCU/FDU?

In conclusion, the current First Four ruins the integrity of the bracket, produces awful television ratings and punishes the players on the smallest programs

The insane part is how easy the fix would be. If the four games were only limited to at-large bids, everything is fixed. I mean, it doesn’t fix the real problem that the tournament should be 64 teams, but that ship sailed long, long ago.

With an all-at-large First Four, the tournament gets off to a cracking start with more anticipation from the general sporting public. The integrity of the bracket is restored, and each regional bracket will again be equal. The TV ratings will surely increase, along with ticket sales. As an added bonus, the First Four would put more emphasis on the regular season, and by proxy the conference tournaments, because there would be an intense battle to avoid Dayton.

Unfortunately, this fix is too easy and too sensible for the NCAA to ever do it.

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