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NCAA Tournament Bids

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It's May and the NCAA Tournament is still alive and well.

-Mike DeCourcy wrote an article coiniciding the ACC spring meetings in Florida. ACC officials are complaining loudly about the paltry four bids they got in the NCAA Tournament this year. DeCourcy basically argues they are wrong to complain and they got exactly what their teams played to get: NIT bids. I do not have much argument on the case. It is one thing to gripe about the lack of bids if your teams did their homework and then got shafted. However, Florida State and Maryland played absolutled nobody outside the conference or to clarify in Maryland's case, the beat nobody of signifigance. If ACC officials want to ensure more bids them they need to quit scheduling schools like Nebraska and actually step up to some real competition.

-Of course USA Today has an article debating the size of the tournament which is probably right up the ACC's and every other major conference's alley. The NCAA says it will take up the issue when it meets in late June. The idea has been floated to add anywhere from three teams to 15 bringing the field size to 80. Coaches have called for an expanded field citing the increase in Division I schools and more parity using the George Mason Final Four run as evidence.

I dealt with this issue here back in March when Syracuse's Jim Boheim made the same suggestion in the run up to the Final Four. Without rehashing this too much I would like to point out the most interesting line in the whole USA Today article was this one:

Division I's growth from 282 teams in 1985 to 334 today and growing parity in the sport — underscored by George Mason's Final Four appearance in April — have fueled coaches' calls for a larger field. Boeheim, among others, advocated perhaps eight to 10 more teams, and the National Association of Basketball
Coaches pursued the proposal during its annual meeting with the NCAA committee last week in Atlanta.

Notice it is not the school ADs or even CBS clamoring for the change it is the coaches. Why? Because the coaches end of paying the biggest price for failing to make the NCAA Tournament. As I pointed out in my previous post, Boeheim, as an example, is now in a 16 team super conference which means he will be routinely beat up unless he has an elite team. Finishing 7th or 8th in the Big East is a considerable possibility in the new lineup and if the tournament was 80 teams, a winning record would make you a shoo in. Now expanding the field to 68 and creating play-in games for each region would probably serve to balance the field. I would argue that the 8 play-in teams would need to be team 60-68 regardless of conference affiliation. An expansion to 80 would be an unmitigated disaster. The argument that increased parity neccisitates expansion is pure hogwash, especially if it rests on what George Mason accomplished. If you examine all the teams who were left home this season, they were without a doubt bad teams. Taking the ACC snubs as an example: FSU and Maryland both were terrible and had no business in the field. I would also argue that the parity we see in the NCAA is not found in a higher number of quality teams but rather that the gap between the #1 and #65 seed is closer than it has been in the past. Of course there is also the possibility that this kind of parity is cyclical. Taking a look at the total seeding for the Final Four beginning in 1980:

1980: 21
1981: 7
1982: 11
1983: 12
1984: 11
1985: 12
1986: 15
1987: 10
1988: 10
1989: 9
Average Total Seedings for Decade: 11.8

1990: 11
1991: 7
1992: 13
1993: 5
1994: 8
1995: 9
1996: 11
1997: 7
1998: 9
1999: 7
Average Total Seedings for Decade: 8.7

2000: 22
2001: 7
2002: 9
2003: 9
2004: 8
2005: 11
2006: 20
Average Total Seedings for Decade: 12.2

So on the basis on total Final Four seeds the current decade with still three years left has a slightly lower seed average than did the 1980's. The 1990's was clearly a year where the cream of the crop rose to the top in the Final Four whereas the 1980's was far more predictable. In fact the seeds for the national champion team also shows parity has always been present.

1980's: 2, 3, 1, 6, 1, 8, 2, 1, 6, 3: 3.3 average seed wins
1990's 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 2, 1: 1.4 average seed wins
2000's: 1, 1, 1, 3, 2, 1, 3: 1.5 average seed wins

Based on these two stats it is clear that there was far more parity in the 1980's, even after the expansion to 64 teams in 1985, than there is the past 16 years. Not only did you have a wild mix of seeds in the Final Four but more times than naught a lower seed ending up winning the national championship. Only three #1 seeds won the title in the 1980's versus seven in the following decace and four of seven so far this decade. The 1980's also had a #11 seed making the Final Four and also boasted a Final Four(1980) absent of #1 seeds.

It also should be noted that the recent abandonment of the college ranks by many high school players as well as the bleeding of underclassmen for the NBA has placed a premium on experience which most mid-major teams have. The age limit will, in the very least, put a lot of talented players back into the major schools and I would also expect major school to start recruiting in such a way as to have a mix of talented one/two year players and four year players with good talent. In other words I think various factors of players turning earlier to the NBA and the cyclical nature of these things have created a perception of parity in the NCAA Tournament. I would surmise that the pendulum will swing the other way at some point and a decade like the 1990's with Final Four teams full of high seeds as well as high seeded winners will be the trend.

Tinkering with the NCAA field is a dangerous thing. And while I do not think it would turn a lot of people off, I do think the current bracket is balanced and easy to follow. Adding another slate of games also upsets the 22 day period of games which have become a staple to so many fans around the country. The addition of more games, especially pitting lower seeds would simply create more background noise and a kind of class division between what the NCAA says are tournament games and the "real" tournament games which include the higher seeds.

Simply put, it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.