True March Madness – Let ‘em ALL in!

There is good news coming for college basketball fans soon!  Both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments will begin in about two more weeks.

Given that the tournaments were cancelled last year as the pandemic shut down sports (and much of our lives), this is, indeed, great news for sports fans!

This year, though, there are quite a bit of unusual facets to the Big Dance to be aware of.  For the men, all tournament games will be played in and around Indianapolis, Indiana.   The women will have their entire tournament played in the San Antonio, Texas area. 

From the first round to cutting down the nets at the end, the entire tournament will be played in those two great American cities.

That’s the good news.

The rules, though, for this tournament are quite unique.  The NCAA has published guidelines for both the men’s tournament and women’s tournament.  In a nutshell, let me summarize the most important aspects below:

  1. Every participating conference should have the opportunity for at least one team in the championship field.  That isn’t anything new as the NCAA keeps the smaller conferences happy with at least one team being put into the field to play a supposed “giant” power school.  Those match-ups always make the first weekend so much fun!
  2. Once the tournament bracket is finalized and released, teams will not be reseeded, nor will the bracket change.  This would become important in the event that your favorite team should come down with a COVID outbreak in week #2 of the tournament.  The remaining healthy opponent would win that upcoming game by forfeit.  Moral of the story – you have to beat all of your opponents and COVID to win this year! 
  3. If a league champion team cannot participate, the league may designate a replacement team before the start of the tournament.  Though this might seem highly unlikely, the NCAA is trying to give every conference a chance to have a participant. 
  4. If an “at large” team (a highly rated team which didn’t win its own conference) cannot participate, the NCAA will utilize one of the “First Four” teams (#65, 66, 67, and 68) to take the place of the at-large team(s).  As a result, the NCAA would then put (theoretically) team #69 into the “First Four” group of teams. 

Before we proceed, the tournament field of 64 teams is a product of math.  To win the championship with 64 teams, the winner must go 6-0 to take home the trophy (64 teams becomes 32, then 16, 8, 4, and 2).  This is normally played over three week period with two games played every weekend. 

Since the NCAA usually has 32 conference champions, those winners are automatically entered into the field.  In many cases, the regular season league champion does not win the end-of-season conference championship, though. 

Let the howling begin!

If a regular season champ fails to win its conference tournament, they are still eligible to enter the field by being one of the 32 (in normal years) “at large” teams.  Those teams, though, are chosen by an elite (translated – politically connected) group of people assigned by the NCAA.  They are usually athletics directors and former coaches and a few assorted ringers. 

As the number of conferences has kept increasing, there are a number of unhappy “left out” college basketball teams which are omitted from the tournament field following Selection Sunday. 

A chorus of “boo hoos” is heard every single year.

Grab your tiny violin for Teeny Tiny University (record of 25-5) from the Podunk Conference.  Though winning 25 games was impressive, none of their wins came against a recognizable foe. 

The most vocal howling usually comes from media pundits about the omission of Large State U (record of 19-16) of the Bluebloods Conference.  The team was left out of the field despite having to play “the toughest schedule in the nation”.  True, but they still lost 16 games! 

To quell some of the whining, the NCAA attempted to placate the fans, media, and others by creating a unique four-team “play-in” idea.  Called the “First Four”, the four lowest seeded conference champions and the four lowest seeded “at large” teams square off in four contests on the Tuesday and Wednesday night after Selection Sunday.  Those four winners take the last four places in the championship round of 64 teams. 

The entire concept of the NCAA’s “First Four” has been a relatively big yawn.   Other than Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2011, no other team has advanced from a “First Four” victory all the way into the Final Four.   

With the 2021 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments both being held in one location for all six rounds of play, why not expand the field this season and let every basketball team play?

According to one source, there are 347 men’s college basketball teams playing ball right now.  Doing the math, it would require one additional game to expand the field to 128 teams.  To reach 256 teams, we’re talking two additional games.  If all 347 teams wanted in (which is highly doubtful), let’s find out a way to accommodate everyone this year! 

Here’s my idea which would only add one week to the NCAA tournament. 

First, we’ll lock in the top 64 teams in the normal fashion.  The conference champs and the top at-large teams will all receive a first weekend bye. 

However, we will dedicate the first weekend of my one-time only NCAA tournament to determine the “Next 64” teams for our new 128 team field. 

For teams #65 through 347 (theoretically), we will rely on a ratings service (such as the RPI) to rank all of these teams.  We would (theoretically) have 283 teams which we wish to trim down to 64 teams to advance into week #2 of the expanded tournament.  Here’s how:

Week #1 – Tuesday/Wednesday games:

To set the weekend field of 256 teams, we would need the “worst” 54 teams to play 27 games (at various sites all day) and eliminate 27 teams.  283-27 = 256 teams will advance and be seeded accordingly to RPI rank. 

Week #1 – Thursday/Friday games:

There will be 64 games (128 teams) on Thursday and 64 games (128 teams) played on Friday.   It would require eight arenas (local colleges) playing eight games per day (7AM-Midnight)

Week #1 – Saturday/Sunday games:

There will be 32 games (64 teams) play on Saturday and 32 games (64) teams on Sunday.  This would be played at eight area arenas with four games per day (Noon – 10PM)

Time out!  After Week #1, the entire 128 team NCAA “All in” tournament field is now set!  It’s now time to pit the 64 “play-in” teams against the 64 well-rested bye week teams. 

Week #2 – Tuesday games:

The 32 even numbered seeded teams from the Top 64 grouping (#2, 4, 6, etc.) will play against the 32 winners from the previous Saturday play-in games.  Those games would be played at eight arenas with four games per day (Noon-11PM)  

Week #2 – Wednesday games:

Same format as Tuesday except the odd-numbered seeded teams from the Top 64 grouping (#1, 3, 5, etc.) will play against the 32 winners from the previous Sunday play-in games. 

Week #2 – Thursday & Friday games:

There are now just 64 teams remaining.  The NCAA basketball tournament will now continue as it would in a traditional year from this point forward.

And there you have it!  We can, indeed, have a “Y’all Come” type of NCAA basketball tournament by adding just one extra week of games. 

You just simply have to be willing to do it.