Well, with an introduction like that, I’m sure I’m going to fail to live up to anyone’s expectations. But that’s okay. Richard’s invited my here not just for March Madness, but for all whatever topic springs to my mind, but I am going to stick to basketball for the short term.
I firmly believe that March Madness is the greatest annual sporting event. And not just the NCAA tournament, which is great, but Championship Week as well. Sometimes, ESPN has a habit of creating marketing gimmicks out of nothing (such as Rivalry Week), but Championship Week is simply one of the greatest things the network has ever done. It gives a chance for schools which would never have a chance to play before a national TV audience get some exposure. The teams win out, the network wins out, and the fans win out by getting to see even more basketball.
The greatest thing about March Madness is the fact there are 336 teams in Division I basketball, and every single one of them has a chance to win the title. The winners of the conference tournaments earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament which means that 331 teams went into the season knowing their fate would be decided by what happens on the court (the five independents are pretty much screwed). This is in stark contrast to the inequitable BCS system used in football.
The BCS is riddled with problems, which I won’t detail right now, but chief among them is that almost half of Division I teams go into the season with absolutely no chance of winning the title. The have nots can not win the title even if they win all of their games, and are left to content themselves on moral victories like Boise St. Since the BCS formula punishes losses more than poor scheduling, there is no incentive for the teams into the big conferences to ever schedule the teams from the weaker conferences. And we are left with a system in which the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.
Not so in basketball. Sure, there is a huge gap in quality between the ACC (ranked #1 in conference RPI) and the SWAC (ranked last), but no team in the SWAC can complain that things weren’t decided on the court. Their champion will earn a bid to the tournament just like anyone else. Sure, there’s no at-large opportunity available, but there is still opportunity. The system is weighted in favor of the big schools, but not to the exclusion of the small schools. NCAA basketball is a true meritocracy.
There will be no debate about the polls or if this team could have beaten that team. Sure, the 35th at-large team will complain that they were better than the 34th at-large team which gobbled up the very last bid to the field, but the committee usually does a top notch job of selecting teams. And it’s hard for the 35th team to complain they have been denied a title shot. If your team gets left out of the field, there is a simple answer to your complaints they got jobbed out of an at-large bid: the team should have won their conference.
Championship Week is all about that. This is their one shot at the field, as it is highly unlikely the loser of the tournament will get an at-large bid. The whole season comes down to one game. And, unlike the big schools, at the little schools the players really are student-athletes. They aren’t going to the NBA. Winning the conference tournament and going to the Big Dance really is the highlight of their entire athletic careers. They just want to make it to the field. The winners of these games will get in the hard way, they will earn it.
That’s why you should watch these championship games of conferences you’ve never heard of. Because this really is what the NCAA aspires to be. This is amateur sports at its very best.