Sunday, March 14, 2010

96 Shining Moments

Even if America manages to survive any upcoming Obamacare vote, there is further "transformative change" that threatens some of the fundamental principles that make this country great. And this change is coming sooner than you realize. Even now, Big Business insiders, some of whom have ties to the government, are meeting to set the nation on an unsustainable fiscal path towards ... an NCAA basketball tournament with 96 teams: Why Would NCAA Expand Tournament? It's About the Money.

Around the country, from the stands to the locker rooms to the executive offices of television networks, the possibility that the tournament will grow, most likely to 96 teams, has become one of this March’s most heated topics.

As the N.C.A.A. prepares to unveil its 65-team field on what has become known as Selection Sunday, the possibility of radically altering the format — perhaps as soon as next year — is being seriously considered.

Although the idea of changing the beloved bracket has been panned by fans and criticized by pundits, the promise of more television money and greater access to the tournament has made change conceivable.

“The opportunity to decide what’s going to happen with our revenue is a big deal,” said Greg Shaheen, the senior vice president for basketball and business strategies with the N.C.A.A.. “It’s what a lot of institutions rely on for their athletic programs. That’s a centerpiece to why all this happens. It’s easy to say you don’t want change. But simply put, it’s what’s appropriate to operate in our best interest.”

There is kill, and then there is overkill, and a 96-team NCAA tourney would be overkill. For one thing, what will happen to the NIT? For another, what will this do to iconic phrases like "Sweet Sixteen" and "Final Four?" Instead, we'll have the "Nifty 96," the "Fated 48," the "Terrific 24," the "Triumphant 12," the "Sweet 6," and the "Thrilling 3." That last game should be a doozey, by the way. (Oh, wait, I see in the linked article that the 32 top teams will have a first round bye).

More seriously, you have to love the two-faced nature of the NCAA. On the one hand, they bluntly admit that they want to expand/devalue the tournament because it will being more revenue into the schools. On the other hand, they make also sorts of pious pronouncements about "student-athletes" and have no problem bringing the hammer down on a kid who "illegally" accepts some cash, a car, or even some clothes even if the giftor has no connection to the university's recruiting efforts.

The schools, meanwhile, are acting like the greedy corporations that they normally like to contrast themselves to. A lot of state schools (Ohio State, UCLA, Cal, UNC, etc) have strong programs that bring in a ton of revenue. They already benefit from public funding, but obviously can't stand the thought of missing even one year of Tournament play because their team is heavy on freshmen, . It's not unusual for a school that makes a strong run in the Tournament to fall off the next year after the classic "strong senior class" graduates. No worries now!

Not surprisingly the coaches are mostly in favor of this change, too. Why wouldn't they? Right now, it's difficult to get into the Tournament every year, but with 96 teams, you could have a mediocre season (like UCLA) and still get in. (you can't fire me! I took you to the NCAA Tournament 10 years in a row!) Some of the more old school guys have the better arguments, though:

“It takes away from the special nature of it,” said Steve Donahue, who has coached Cornell to the N.C.A.A. tournament for three straight years. “It’s supposed to be an incredible award for a great, great season. If you expand it, it’s not that. Everyone thinks more is better. It’s not.”

Davidson Coach Bob McKillop went a step further.

“Isn’t this whole thing a window into society?” he said. “We’ve diminished so many other things. We’ve diminished test scores. We’ve diminished admission policies. We diminish so much for reasons that are not accentuating excellence and performance. It’s almost too inclusive.”

I couldn't have said it better myself, but we all know that these are not arguments that will reasonate in our "everyone gets a trophy" culture.

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