After 10-For-10, Dayton Goes Four For (First) Four

Posted by jstevrtc on September 9th, 2010

For the past ten years, the city of Dayton has been host to the NCAA Tournament’s Play-In Game (though the NCAA doesn’t really like that moniker). Affectionately known as the “PiG,” it wasn’t exactly a destination to which teams aspired after a long regular season and a conference tournament championship. If your team got into the dance, you wanted to be in the dance, you know? Despite the city’s admirable support of their Flyers — the student section in UD Arena was one of the loudest we encountered last season — among college basketball players, Dayton became a place you hoped you weren’t sent by the bracket-makers. Even though the NCAA treated it and paid schools the same as any other appearance, you didn’t want to have to play into the Tournament. You wanted to be in the Tournament.

The NCAA, the citizens of Dayton, and the people who work at the arena, however, have brought every ounce of dignity and elegance they could muster for the PiG, and they’ve done it each of the past ten years. There was never anything close to a half-hearted effort on their part. Despite the reputation of the PiG, Dayton made teams, fans, and media feel welcome. The seats were always filled.  The people of Dayton embraced the PiG. On Thursday, the NCAA confirmed that Dayton will be the site for all four of the first round games — the First Four —  that were created earlier this summer when the NCAA increased the tournament field from 65 to 68.

UD Arena, In Its Usual Sold-Out State

To this, we say bravo. It’s a great, appropriate reward from the NCAA to Dayton, and we hope they extend this beyond 2011. Dayton would get four NCAA Tournament games every year, quadrupling any economic spike they’ve enjoyed by hosting the PiG for the last ten years. As for the games themselves, two of them will involve the last four “at-large” teams that gained admission to the dance, and two of them will involve the last four automatic qualifiers. They’ll take place on Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday, which means that there is no longer that seemingly infinite wait from Sunday night to the tournament’s start on Thursday (yeah, we know, the PiG was on Tuesday). You get Selection Sunday, then Monday to crank out your brackets. The first round begins on Tuesday with the start of the First Four.

There is one final question, though, and that’s who plays when. Will the last four at-larges play on one night and the 16-seeds all play on the other? We communicated with David Worlock, the Associate Director of the Men’s Basketball Championship, who told us that “was still to be determined,” but the NCAA’s contract with CBS and Turner Sports allows for “maximum flexibility” in terms of scheduling the games. If TV is making the ultimate decision on this, we figure that they’d be getting maximum eyeballs each night by pairing a 16-seed game first with a “marquee” at-large battle second, using, say, the old 7/9:15 PM ET game windows. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s fun to be talking about this kind of stuff. And it’s going to be a fun way to start the Tournament, and we know the city of Dayton will get behind it.

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NCAA Ticket Lottery System Under Fire

Posted by rtmsf on July 19th, 2010

Last week a federal appeals court in Chicago reinstated a lawsuit against the NCAA that takes a direct shot at its lottery-based process for distributing the oh-so-coveted Final Four ducats each year.  Many fans who have never attended (or tried to attend) a Final Four may not know this, but depending on the size of the venue, the NCAA offers a good number of tickets for sale to the general public every year.  Next year, with Houston’s Reliant Stadium (and its 71,500 seats) hosting the final weekend, the NCAA is offering 20,000 seats for sale to the public.  A lottery process determines if your application is one of the lucky few.  From the NCAA website:

Only one properly submitted application per individual/household will be accepted for inclusion in the NCAA’s ticket selection process. The NCAA will use a random, selection process to determine successful Men’s Final Four recipients in July 2010.  Those individuals selected to receive tickets will be notified by the end of August.   Individuals not selected to receive tickets will receive a refund of the full application deposit amount by August. Men’s Final Four tickets may not be offered as a prize in a promotion, sweepstakes or contest, or auctioned for fundraising purposes unless authorized in advance by the NCAA.  (emphasis added by RTC

These Will Cost You a Pretty Penny (+ Processing)

The rub of this lawsuit is that the NCAA also requires a nonrefundable $6-$10 processing fee with each application, regardless of whether you “win” or “lose” the tickets.  So if you are one of the many unlucky applicants and your check isn’t fortuitously chosen from the hopper, you will only get a refund for the value of the tickets, not the processing fee.  Due to this nice little Ticketmaster-esque add-on of a few extra bucks to play the game, this “lottery” for Final Four tickets (where everyone loses even when they win) might just be illegal in the state of Indiana. 

The class-action suit (of residents from New York, Arizona and Oregon) argues that the state government of Indiana (where the NCAA is HQ’d) is the only entity within the Hoosier State who may lawfully run a lottery, and as such, the NCAA’s money-making fee structure is in clear violation of the law.  The Court of Appeals decision agreed in stating that people who apply for Final Four tickets are not aware that they are gambling (“pay to play”) when they submit an application, and the NCAA could have avoided this whole mess if they’d simply refunded the processing fees to those who did not win tickets. 

The next phase of the case will be discovery and another chance in front of the District Court, but it seems from our viewpoint that the NCAA is probably going to have to pay something on this whether as part of a large settlement or a judgment against them.  By refusing to refund the processing fee, there’s just something that doesn’t pass the sniff test here, and undoubtedly the Court of Appeals had that in mind in sending the case back.  Going forward, however, it seems as if the NCAA could make a very simple change and resolve this.  Either eliminate the processing fees of those who, you know, don’t actually get processed (the “losers”), or take away the processing fee completely and just add $10 to the face value of every ticket.  Will markedly fewer people submit applications if the lower-level seats are $210 instead of $200; or $190 vs. $180 for uppers?  Not likely. 

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A Little Summer Madness For Your Basketball Jones

Posted by rtmsf on July 16th, 2010

It’s the middle of summer and hotter than hell pretty much everywhere, and college basketball feels a long way away.  Luckily, CBS College Sports has realized that some of us will watch great college hoops year-round if given the opportunity, and they’re using the next couple of weeks to replay the entire 2010 NCAA Tournament for people of our ilk.  They started this feature last week, but there are still plenty of great games on tap.  Here’s a taste of some of when some of the better games will be on — set your Tivo accordingly…  (although make sure to check the complete listings because most of these games and many others are televised multiple times over the next week).

Um, Why Does Summer Madness Have a Football Field in the Background?

Saturday July 17

  • 4:30 pm – St. Mary’s vs. Villanova (2d Round)
  • 6:30 pm – Murray State vs. Vanderbilt (1st Round)
  • 11 pm – Northern Iowa vs. Kansas (2d Round)

Monday July 19

  • 6 am – Old Dominion vs. Notre Dame (1st Round)
  • 12:30 pm – Michigan State vs. Maryland (2d Round)
  • 6:30 pm – Xavier vs. Pittsburgh (2d Round)
  • 9 pm – Texas A&M vs. Purdue (2d Round)

Tuesday July 20

Wednesday July 21

  • 6 pm – Butler vs. Kansas State (E8)
  • 11 pm – Tennessee vs. Michigan State (E8)

Thursday July 22

  • 12 pm – Baylor vs. Duke (E8)
  • 2 pm – Butler vs. Michigan State (F4)
  • 6 pm – Butler vs. Duke (Ch)

Friday July 23

  • 8:30 pm – Wake Forest vs. Texas (1st Round)
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The New NCAA Tournament — We Can Live With It

Posted by jstevrtc on July 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.

The NCAA got around to announcing “The Decision” regarding the layout of the now 68-team tournament and specifically the makeup of the competitors in the four “play-in games” today, and the end result?  Punt.

Getting the terminology out of the way first, these games are officially no longer part of the Opening Round, nor are they “play-in games” (not that they ever were). They now make up the entirety of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, otherwise known as the First Four. Those games that get played on Thursday and Friday? Those are now the Second Round, with the weekend games now the Third Round, with the winners there still advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

We knew before today that there were three main options that the NCAA was considering: the final eight at-large teams matching up, the lowest eight automatic qualifiers matching up, or some combination of the two. That last one, that’s what we got. And you know what? That’s probably the best decision.

The NCAA dropped back and punted, here -- but the resulting field position isn't that bad.

If the NCAA had chosen to send only the lowest eight qualifiers to these games, there would have been numerous problems, not the least of which would be a continuation of the idea that those first four games aren’t really part of the NCAA Tournament. The teams that advance from one-bid conferences like the MEAC, SWAC, American East and Big Sky (to name just a few of the usual suspects) would battle it out in Dayton in relative anonymity for the right to advance to their chance to get killed by a one-seed, while your typical college basketball fan would ignore the whole thing. In the process, sure, the teams involved would have a better chance at winning a game in the NCAA Tournament and thereby earning themselves an extra share of the proceeds from the tournament, but once the “actual” tournament started, there would be four less automatic qualifiers sticking around for their chance to get on national television and test out their slingshot against Goliath. Then there’s also the fact that after spending $10.8 billion on the rights to the tournament, the first four games of the package would be a total wash for the television networks, stuck broadcasting games like Mississippi Valley State against Northern Arizona to a national television audience of almost four digits.

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NCAA Tournament Gets Hybridized

Posted by jstevrtc on July 11th, 2010

The First Four starts it, the Final Four ends it.

We’ll have a more in-depth discussion on this later this evening, but the new format for the 68-team NCAA Tournament has just been announced.  This article by ESPN’s Andy Katz describes how the NCAA is going with what people call the “hybrid model.”  The last four at-large teams will play each other for the right to get into the main draw, and the last four automatic bid teams will do the same. They’re calling it the “First Four,” or the new official first round.  The seed line will be determined independently for each game, meaning that two teams may be playing for the right to snag a 11-seed and play a six, and another First Four game might have two teams battling for a 12-seed to play a five, and so on.

There will now be no speculating as to who the last four at large teams into the Big Dance are — you’ll know who they are by their presence in one of the Tuesday/Wednesday games.  Unfortunately, there won’t be any “mixing” of the automatic qualifiers and the final at-large teams.  As aforementioned, the at-larges will play each other and the automatic qualifiers will play each other, so you won’t get that small-conference tournament winner relishing their chance to knock off a BCS-conference team who’s among the last four at-larges.  And, interestingly, after several years of seemingly downplaying the importance of a team’s RPI, it’s certainly important now, because that is the instrument that will be used to determine the lowest-rated automatic qualifiers.

The NCAA goes with the hybrid model. We're still evaluating this...

The First Four games will be broadcast on Tru TV, so you better check your cable lineup to make sure you get it.  Also, according to Katz, there was no early indication that the games would be moved from Dayton, the traditional site of all previous play-in games, though we expect that’s where the discussion will move to, now.

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What Should the NCAA Do With Its Four Little PiGs?

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2010

This has been discussed repeatedly since the late April announcement that the NCAA Tournament would be moving to a 68-team design beginning in 2011, but we’ve yet to come across a piece that outlines all of the iterations that the new four-PiG format might take.  Hashing it out on the phone with The Kiff (a longstanding member of the Cult of 64) last weekend, we ultimately settled on two major bones of contention — who gets to play in the four play-in games, and how do you structure it so as to maximize interest, revenue and bracketing?  We’ll discuss each of these questions in turn, but first, it’s interesting to read a quote from one prominent member of the NCAA Selection Committee for insights as to what may or may not be on the table here.  Laing Kennedy, the Kent State athletic director who will finish up a five-year term as a member of the NCAA Selection Committee, has this to say about it:

Going from 65 to 68 means four first-round games. Our committee, when we meet in May, will look at some models on how to bracket that. For example, you can have two afternoon and two night games in Dayton, or two games at two different sites.  But the big question to be decided by the committee is which teams should play those play-in games, and how the winners will be seeded into the field.  Speaking individually, I would look at the last eight, and rewarding the AQs [automatic qualifiers].  Those would be highly competitive first games. But those are things we have to look at in May.

Additionally, Greg Shaheen, the NCAA Senior Executive VP who got lit up by the media in the week leading up to the Final Four, said during a radio interview with Doug Gottlieb recently that all options are on the table with respect to logistics but one of the primary considerations of the committee in structuring the new games will be to remove some of the stigma from them.  A noble endeavor, indeed.

How to Avoid the Dreaded Stigma?

With the hope that reasonable minds ultimately will prevail, here are our thoughts on the matter.

Who Plays In It?

This is the part most fans care about, and with good reason — they want to know whether as standard practice they can continue to ignore PiG Tuesday.  As it currently stands, roughly 99.9% of America* fails to so much as recognize that there is a Tuesday night game ostensibly involving NCAA Tournament opponents.  Only the truly anal among us wait until Wednesday to fill out our bracket on the ridiculous off chance that the winner of the PiG is the “right” matchup to give its corresponding #1 team trouble (and you know who you are).  So let’s cut right to it.  For the last ten seasons, there have been only four groups of people who care about this game.

* unscientific sampling of the three guys walking around the office hallway

  1. #16A’s fans, players and families.
  2. #16B’s fans, players and families.
  3. Overly nervous fans of the corresponding #1 seed waiting on an opponent for Friday’s #1/#16 game.
  4. The good citizens of Dayton, Ohio, who keep attending this thing year after year.

Just about six weeks ago, we saw this played out in real time as the “Opening Round” of the NCAA Tournament between Arkansas-Pine Bluff-Winthrop competed directly with the first round of the NIT and several interesting matchups that included UConn-Northeastern, UNC-William & Mary, Texas Tech-Seton Hall and NC State-South Florida.  From that night’s ESPN coverage to the trending Twitter topics and later to the Nielsen ratings, it was painfully clear that on this mid-March evening, the NIT games were the preferred matchups for college hoops fans.  As anyone working at 700 West Washington Street in Indianapolis is surely aware, that should NEVER happen.  Even on its worst night, for an NCAA Tournament game to be overshadowed by another basketball-related sporting event in March should be an impossible achievement, and yet on that particular evening it was not.

This NIT Contest, Not the NCAA Game, Was the Featured Event of the Night

And therein lies the problem.  Most people, even hardcore college hoops fans like us, don’t consider the Tuesday night PiG to be a legitimate part of the NCAA Tournament.  It involves the two worst-rated teams in the field, which means nobody knows anything about them; and it has zero impact on our brackets, which means there’s no corresponding reason to care to learn about them either.  So the question for the NCAA becomes: how do you legitimize it?  How do you remove that stigma that Shaheen mentioned as problematic?  How do you make people care about the (now) four play-in games on Tuesday so that random NIT games involving struggling national powers don’t take priority over NCAA games on the sports page?  Here are the two viable alternatives as we see them.

Status Quo (x4)

Keeping things as they are now where the #16s play the ‘other’ #16s (or possibly #17s in the new scheme) wouldn’t seem to do much to enhance the legitimacy of the PiGs, but there is precedent for this.  From 1978 to 1985, the NCAA Tournament doubled in size from 32 to 64 teams (can you imagine the outcry in today’s environment??).  There were several fits and starts along the way as it expanded a little more almost every year in-between, but suffice it to say that in 1983, the NCAA invited 52 teams to the ball with the final eight automatic qualifiers slotted as #12 seeds into four play-in games (or the “preliminary round” as they called it then).  In 1984, there were five play-in games with an additional #11 seed added to the mix.  In both of these years, all of the play-in games were played on the Tuesday prior to the first round games, and the teams were sent to PiG sites of Philadelphia’s Palestra or Dayton’s UD Arena depending on relative proximity to the school(s) involved.  The winners advanced to play #5 seeds in the true “first round,” with the one exception of the #11 seed (Northeastern) in 1984 who played a #6 seed in that round.

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Greg Shaheen is in a Much Better Mood These Days

Posted by rtmsf on April 30th, 2010

You may not have heard because it was such a formality, but yesterday the NCAA Board of Directors approved the recommendation made by its basketball committee to expand the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams.  The committee will now spend the next two months reviewing possibilities as to how to structure the expansion, but one of the key criteria they will consider is to design a system that will remove the stigma of teams who are invited to the play-in game.  Doug Gottlieb interviewed NCAA Senior Executive VP Greg Shaheen on his radio show yesterday, and you may recall that Shaheen was the mouthpiece who set the world on fire with his discussion of 96-team expansion during the week of the Final Four.  It’s good to hear considerably less stress in his voice as he discussed several of the options on the table; not bad for a suit who has morphed from one of the most despised men in American sports to one that everyone now praises.  Gottlieb said at the end of the piece, “thank you,” and we’d be remiss if we didn’t say likewise.  In an era where the almighty dollar seems to always win out, thanks for listening to the fans, Greg. 

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A Look At The Future Of The NCAA Tournament (For Now)

Posted by nvr1983 on April 22nd, 2010

Over the past few months this site and many others that cover college basketball were filled with columns about what was viewed as an almost certain expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. It turns out that almost everyone in the media (including us) had it wrong as the NCAA announced its plans to expand to a 68-team tournament while being broadcast on CBS and the 3 Turner networks (TBS, TNT, and truTV). Technically the NCAA Board of Directors still has to approve the changes next Thursday, but that should be a rubber stamp situation given the unanimity in today’s decision. The deal, which should account for approximately 96% of revenue for men’s college basketball, will pay the NCAA $10.8 billion over 14 years (or a little over $771 million per year) compared to the previous deal of $6 billion over 11 years (or slightly more than $545 million per year). That deal, which was signed in 1999, allowed the NCAA an opt-out by July 31 of this year. Once the NCAA exercised that option it was widely believed that their intention was to sign with ESPN in the network’s attempt to take over all things sports-related. When it became clear that ESPN was no longer the front-runner in the bidding, everyone’s attention turned to the CBS/Turner bid. We will get to the whole 68 team thing in a bit just bear with us while we go through the TV issues.

Credit: Indy Star/S. Riche

Coming soon to TBS. . .

While everybody is familiar with CBS’s work on the NCAA Tournament since they have broadcast every NCAA championship game since the 1982 Tourney which involved a freshman named Michael Jordan hitting the game-winning shot, Turner’s association with college basketball is a little less well-known. When I say “less well-known,” I mean that I am unaware of any prior association between Turner Sports and college basketball.  Some news reports are indicating that the NCAA was leaning towards the joint bid because of their desire to have every game broadcast nationally, which would require four channels broadcasting games. Even though ESPN would have that capability (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPN Classic) and we are still searching for truTV on our local cable provider (Comcast in Boston) it is being reported that this desire favored the CBS/Turner deal. All of the games will continued to be streamed online. What this will do is eliminate the need for Greg Gumbel to switch you to a different game (often at inappropriate times) and allow those of us who don’t get DirecTV’s March Madness package to watch two close games at once on a split screen (assuming you have picture-in-picture on your TV). [Ed. Note: TNT/TBS reaches almost six times as many households as DirecTV (99 million versus 18 million).] It is unclearexactly how much ESPN bid for the NCAA Tournament, but it is believed to have been relatively close to the CBS/Turner bid.


We won't be seeing these two broadcasting NCAA Tournament games any time soon

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Posted by rtmsf on April 22nd, 2010

Has there ever been a non-prime number so beautiful as this one? 

The NCAA made the right decision, from its release this afternoon:

Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 Championship. The recommendation will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its April 29 meeting.

Much more later…

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ESPN Giving Up on NCAA Tourney Rights?

Posted by rtmsf on April 16th, 2010

Word has leaked through Sports Business Daily that the NCAA has two offers on the table for consideration of a new multi-year contract for coverage of college basketball’s premier event, the NCAA Tournament.  A joint bid from CBS (the existing rights-holder) and Turner Sports amounted to an $840M annual deal over fourteen years, while an ESPN bid came in at around $800M annually for the same duration.  The NCAA’s current exclusive deal with CBS (involving only 65 teams) is at $710M per year through 2013, so either of the proposed deals looks better in comparison.

ESPN Going Out Like That?

But what does this mean?  If this really represents ESPN’s final offer to carry March Madness, then CBS/Turner will probably have the rights for the foreseeable future, which would be fine if the Blinking Eye Network had a competent business partner in this venture.  No disrespect to Turner Sports when it comes to covering the NBA or MLB, but college basketball?  Does the network even carry a single game all season long?  Yet they’re going to switch off every other year with CBS on Final Four coverage?  This is insanity.  With the additional 31 games, we’ll have Marv Albert and Doug Collins doing random first round games where they’ll be calling Brad Stevens “Bud” and his star player “Dwight” Howard.  If you need a parallel example, look no further than how Fox has crapped the bed covering the BCS Bowls the last few seasons.  Yeah, the NFL and CFB are the same game, right — we can do that!  Ugh.

According to the NCAA, though, they are seeking to re-engage the WWL in an effort to integrate what only makes complete and total sense — for a cable network that devotes much of its existence from November through March to finish off what it starts each season.  You’re rarely going to find us around here shilling for ESPN, but this one appears to be a no-brainer from all possible perspectives except one.  Guess what that one is?  You got it — money.  It’s no secret that CBS is losing money on its current $710M annual deal to carry the Tournament, so how does ESPN expect to be able to make those dollars back with a bid at $800M or more?  Ahh yes, the mystifying and little-understood cable carriage fees.

Put very simply, ESPN is in a prime position to take complete control of college basketball from start to finish of every season for the next generation if it simply ups its bid by about $50M per year.  We’re certainly not saying that is an insignificant number, but with the inherent revenue advantage that ESPN has at its disposal based on cable carriage fees in addition to the increased advertising bump, this needs to happen.  ESPN needs to act like the monopoly that it is and take control of this situation.  Stay tuned.  A decision will likely be made within the next two weeks.

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