That’s Debatable: BracketBust?

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2011

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at

This Week’s Topic: It’s BracketBuster weekend on ESPN and its family of networks.  What seemed like a great idea when it originated a few years ago has gotten stale with so few games actually seeming to impact the brackets.  How would you suggest ESPN tweak this model to make it more interesting to college basketball fans and more meaningful for the schools involved?

Brian Otskey, RTC contributor

A quick check of the BracketBusters website reveals there are actually 114 teams participating in this event, the largest number ever. It was created solely for television purposes so I have to ask, why are only 19% of the games televised? This is called “BracketBusters,” but arguably only five or six teams participating have any chance of an at-large berth. Should we call it NIT BracketBusters? CBI BracketBusters? BracketBusters? Come on now. This event is a joke except for a select few teams. To be completely honest, I’ve never been a fan of it. The only games I’ll watch are George Mason @ Northern Iowa, Utah State @ St. Mary’s and maybe Cleveland State @ Old Dominion. I will give ESPN some credit here because they clearly recognize the importance of the Utah State @ St. Mary’s matchup. This game could have major NCAA implications and I wouldn’t be surprised if it draws a solid rating against the Saturday Prime Time game, Illinois @ Michigan State. Another issue with BrackeBusters is it has the potential to end a team’s at-large dreams. It has been a concern in the past and will remain so going forward. I’d either: a) eliminate it all together, or b) limit it to five games between teams with legitimate NCAA aspirations. 

Danny Spewak, RTC contributor

While ESPN’s BracketBusters may give the illusion that the network cares about non-BCS conferences, it’s a cop out. In reality, the event televises only 11 games, appearing on ESPN2 or ESPNU. Those channels already feature mid-major games every Saturday. If ESPN wants to make this event truly special, then put Utah State and St. Mary’s on ESPN at 8 p.m. Saturday– not ESPN2. Don’t send the College Gameday crew to East Lansing; designate this weekend as a mid-major site and choose the top BracketBuster game to attend. Televise 30 games, not 11, and use regional coverage and to switch between games when necessary like CBS does for the NCAA Tournament. In short, ESPN’s problem is that it only goes through the motions with regards to giving BracketBusters the attention it deserves. The public relations team talks a big game, but the network still sends College Gameday to the Big Ten and televises only a handful of games on secondary channels. I’ve seen Michigan State and Illinois play so many times on national television that I could recite their starting lineups in my sleep. Can’t we give the prime-time limelight to someone else for a change?

John Stevens, RTC editor/contributor

Scrap it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the event as it is now, but I don’t think it has the effect that it’s intended to have. And the smaller conference schools don’t want to play each other. If the most important criterion for NCAA Tournament admission is who you played and how you did against them, that underscores the much-discussed problem of how large conference schools refuse to play games in the home gyms of some of the really tough small conference (mid-major) programs. If ESPN really wants to try to impact the eventual bracket more than it already does and if it wants to continue to give mid-majors the spotlight for a day, come up with a BracketBusters-type of scheme that incentivizes power conference programs to get out on the road and let some of these smaller guys take a shot at them. I don’t know how you’d do it (large amounts of cash seem to influence people), and they may even have to move it back on the schedule a bit, but if they could come up with something, it would be much more compelling to watch a series of games in which some of the big boys have to travel to, say, Utah State or George Mason, or even St. Mary’s. Aside from the NCAA Tournament, that’d be the most watched college basketball event of the year.

Walker Carey, RTC contributor

To reinvigorate the Bracketbuster event, I believe that ESPN should move it from February to the first weekend in December. I think this move would be effective because it would expose top mid-majors early in the season and it would allow for fans to really gain a grasp for what mid-majors can make some noise as the season goes on and which ones will not. For example, if a game between Butler and George Mason was played on the first Saturday of December, it is not illogical to assume that George Mason would win. Such a game would prove to the basketball world that Butler is not the team they were a year ago and that George Mason has a solid squad that could do some damage in March.

Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor

While it would be nearly impossible to accomplish due to an overlap in team’s schedules, the BracketBuster event could become much more attractive to the casual fan if teams of a certain RPI and record were obligated to participate in a BracketBuster game. This year there are a few teams that I am sure would love to have one final opportunity to attain a signature non-conference win—Gonzaga, Butler, and Oakland immediately come to mind. In fact, Oakland’s head coach Greg Kampe is on record saying that he wished his Golden Grizzlies were playing in a BracketBuster game. For instance, if a team was in first place in their conference, had a top 150 RPI, or a certain number of wins then they would automatically take part in the BracketBusters. Again, this is a real long-shot, but it would unquestionably heighten the interest in the weekend, as well as place all Mid-Major teams on an equal playing field as it would not be determined before the season began who would play in it.

Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor

The BracketBuster idea is one whose time has passed at this point. So let me offer another option. Block off the same weekend, but make it an exempt tournament involving the top eight teams from the leagues they currently draw the pool from. Tonight’s VCU and Wichita State game could be a great first round matchup; tomorrow’s Utah State-St. Mary’s game another. Include four other teams such as Cleveland State, Belmont, George Mason and Oakland, and all of a sudden you have a compelling reason to watch these games this weekend. It also helps fans who are gearing up for tournament basketball next month to learn about those teams, many of which they’ll be seeing again soon. It would give the mid-major schools a major boost to their RPI by playing other really good mids for up to three consecutive days and it would potentially leave the Selection Committee with an indelible impression based on their performance in this BracketBuster tourney. It would also give the schools themselves a big incentive to get picked for this tournament — there could be a selection show and everything.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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