Opening Round Questions Still Unanswered

Posted by jstevrtc on July 2nd, 2010

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

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee met this week in Chicago, and the biggest item on their agenda was to decide on the format of the new 68-team tournament. In deciding to expand from the 65-team tournament, which has been the rule for the last ten years, to 68 teams in time for the 2011 tournament, the NCAA has committed itself to four opening round games.  The questions of who will play in those games, however, and where those games will take place, among other logistical issues, are still to be decided. While it doesn’t look like a decision will be announced this week, outgoing committee chairperson and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has spelled out three possible options for who will compete in the opening round games:

  1. The teams that would be the 16th and 17th seeds in a bracket, or those teams seeded at spots 61 through 68 in the overall field — likely teams from the historically one-bid conferences,
  2. The last eight non-automatic qualifiers or the teams generally referred to as bubble teams — generally teams from a mixture of BCS leagues and mid-major conferences, or
  3. Some combination of the first two options, with the most talked-about scenario being the last four bubble teams playing in a couple of games and the lowest seeded automatic qualifiers (seeds 65-68) playing in the other two.

While it is still within the realm of reason that additional options could arise (maybe the lowest seeded automatic qualifiers each match up against one of the bubble teams), the answer will likely be one of the three options above. And, frankly, option three is a bit of a copout, so the decision between options one and two comes down to something of a battle between the big power conferences and the less influential conferences that nonetheless make up the bulk of Division I. And neither side wants to play in those games.

Should a conference champ be sent to an opening-rounder and have a better chance to make more money, or should their performance be rewarded with a spot in the main draw?

“I think that if you are an automatic qualifier, you should not be in a play-in game,” said Winthrop head coach Randy Peele when we talked with him earlier this week, and he’s had experience with the opening round game as the coach at a school that has now appeared in two opening round tournament games, including last season’s loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Peele’s sentiment was echoed by Michael White, the Associate Athletic Director for Communications at East Tennessee State University. “For teams like ours that come out of a league with one tournament bid, and to have to earn it by winning our conference tournament, we don’t want to have to be sent to a play-in game.”

Even the term “play-in game,” used in reference to the single opening round game played in Dayton for the last ten years, is a divisive one. The NCAA has gone to great lengths to make sure that game was referred to as the “opening round game,” despite it commonly being referred to by fans and media as the play-in game. “The way the NCAA markets the first day is critical,” said ETSU’s head coach Murry Bartow. “They shouldn’t be marketed as play-in games, where you’re not even in the tournament until you win that game.”

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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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Selection Sunday Bracketology: 03.15.09 (FINAL)

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2009

Zach Hayes is RTC’s  resident bracketologist.  He’ll regularly be out-scooping, out-thinking and out-shining Lunardi over the next three months.

Bubble Situation
31 Automatic Bids
28 Lock At-Large Spots
5 Open Bubble Spots for Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Creighton, San Diego State, New Mexico, Arizona, Auburn, South Carolina and Saint Mary’s

bracketology-031509-final

Last Four In: Maryland, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Texas A&M
Last Four Out: Arizona, Saint Mary’s, Penn State, Creighton
Next Four Out: New Mexico, Auburn, South Carolina, UNLV

Bids per conference:
Big Ten (7), ACC (7), Big East (7), Big 12 (6), Pac-10 (5), Atlantic 10 (3), Mountain West (3), SEC (3), Horizon (2)

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Selection Sunday Bracketology: 03.15.09 (AM Edition)

Posted by zhayes9 on March 15th, 2009

Zach Hayes is RTC’s  resident bracketologist.  He’ll regularly be out-scooping, out-thinking and out-shining Lunardi over the next three months.

Bubble Situation
31 Automatic Bids
28 Lock At-Large Spots
6 Open Bubble Spots for Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Creighton, San Diego State, New Mexico, Arizona, Auburn, South Carolina and Saint Mary’s

bracketology-031509

Last Four In: Penn State, Maryland, San Diego State, Wisconsin
Last Four Out: Saint Mary’s, Arizona, Creighton, New Mexico
Next Four Out: Auburn, South Carolina, UNLV, Providence

Bids per conference: Big Ten (8), ACC (7), Big East (7), Big 12 (6), Pac-10 (5), Atlantic 10 (3), Mountain West (3), SEC (2), Horizon (2).

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