As March Madness has already begun with the conference tournaments this week, I always find myself wondering what can be done to improve the event. I don’t want to tinker too much with success because this is a wonderful time of the year, but I do have a few suggestions.
Every year, we get arguments that Team A should be in the NCAA tournament even though they finished with an awful record in their conference. They played in a tough league is always the response when trying to justify including them, but I think that one of the first things I would do is to make a rule that:
Only a team with a winning conference record (the more winning the better) would be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA. If a team enters their conference tournament, then those games should be counted in their conference record and that should determine their eligibility. Of course if a team with a losing conference record can WIN their conference tournament then they deserve that automatic bid. But I am tired of seeing a team go 9-9 in conference and then complain that they played a tough schedule and should get the benefit of a doubt. The way I see it is that yes, they played in a tough conference, and they proved that they weren’t that good. Sit down and try again next year.
This idea would open the NCAA tournament up to more of the so-called mid-majors. I believe that in a game like basketball, where 1-2 players can make a huge difference, that a winning record should count for something. The mid-majors don’t play the toughest schedules, but they don’t have the resources and the money that the major programs do. Why should a team from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, PAC 12 or SEC get rewarded for mediocrity when they DO have those advantages and fail to utilize them properly?
Of course, the always dreaded option would be to open the tournament to all Division I schools. The conference tournaments would determine seeding and one additional weekend would be required. I understand the objections to this, I only present it as another alternative to get more fresh blood into the tournament in the first place.
A more draconian option would be to return to only conference champions participating in the tournament, This is what things were like before TV money sent everyone into a frenzy. Each conference would have the option of how to determine their champion. Some would select their regular-season champion, others would still hold conference tournaments. For conferences that chose tournaments, their regular-season champion would run the risk of missing the NCAA if they do not win that conference tournament, but that would be the rule when the season started, and the coaches and players would know that.
I think that the first option is the one that causes the least harm to March Madness. I wish that it would be studied by the NCAA as an option. A mid-major that wins 25 games deserves, in my opinion, an NCAA bid over a team that goes 19-13 or 18-12 and 9-9 in conference regardless of what conference they play in.