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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Feinstein’s Thursday Lunch: Shaheen-Kebabs

Posted by jstevrtc on April 2nd, 2010

Now that spring is here and the weather has improved over much of the country, we’d like to announce that grilling season officially kicked off today in Indianapolis, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

The president of the NCAA and/or some other high-ups has always made it a point to take some time on the Thursday or Friday preceding the Final Four to have a press conference to talk about the NCAA Tournament in general and the tournament specific to that year.  This little get-together happened today in Indy.  The media got the chance to hear from Dan Guerrero, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee; Kevin Lennon, VP for academic and membership affairs; and one Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior VP for basketball and business strategies.

Shaheen Isn't Speechless Here

RIGHT HERE is the transcript of this press conference.

IMPORTANT:  Listen, we post a lot of links on this site.  We want you to click every one of them.  We wouldn’t put them up there if we didn’t think it would enhance your enjoyment or understanding of a story or article.  But YOU MUST CLICK ON THAT LINK if you want to get a glimpse into the minds of the people who are trying to change the greatest sporting event in the world, the people who want to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 65 to 96.

Before you do that, we need to make sure you understand something — this thing is happening.  The 96-team tournament isn’t something that’s just being discussed, anymore.  This press conference wasn’t an official announcement, but it was everything but that.  We don’t like it any more than you do, but we might as well get used to it. We know why they’re doing it.  Like Joe Pesci said in Casino:

“Always the dollars.  Always the f***in’ dollars…”

You see, the NCAA has to make a decision this summer.  Their current college basketball contract with CBS runs through 2013, but states that the NCAA can opt out of the deal by the end of this July to go searching for a better deal, meaning more money.  The current contract with CBS was finalized in 1999 and is worth about $6 billion.  It also applies to a 65-team tournament.  If they opt out, the NCAA can do whatever it wants to the tournament and market the new version (like, say, one with 96 teams) as their new product as they negotiate for even bigger bucks.  They could even renegotiate with CBS (we wonder if CBS also sees possible bigger profits and actually wants the NCAA to opt out of this thing).

Back to this press conference.  Here’s a little rundown of what happened.  First, Mr. Guerrero took the mic, and to be honest you really don’t have to read his short introduction.  He said very little and then introduced Mr. Lennon.  Lennon’s portion is quite interesting, because he used his time to tell everyone about the improved graduation and retention rates among student-athletes, specifically men’s basketball players.  He noted that student-athletes in ALL sports, and “certainly men’s basketball, are continuing to outperform the student body” as a whole.  Sounds good.

Then came Mr. Shaheen’s turn.  That’s when it got interesting.

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NCAA Basketball 2010: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2010

With all the talk about the coming 96-team tournament, many in the sports media have forgotten that there is already another ridiculous major college sport championship in place: the BCS. We took you through this process in a post last year, but it’s worth going over again as the blogosphere is ablaze with opinions on changing our beloved NCAA Tournament.

Here are the basic ground rules:

  1. We are following the BCS Football guidelines as closely as possible. Obviously there are some differences. A college basketball team is expected to win more than 9 games (we kept a cut-off at a 75% winning percentage). We replaced the Notre Dame rule with the Duke rule since they both have sketchy TV contracts (Notre Dame with NBC and Duke with ESPN).
  2. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI, KenPom.com, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. The computer polls include data from the NCAA Tournament, but as you will see it didn’t affect the results that significantly.
  3. We used the traditional BCS calculations for determining each team’s score weighing the two human polls and the combined computer poll average as 1/3 of a team’s total score each.

Here are the results:

We will let you digest that for a minute and will provide more information/analysis and the BCS Bowls after the jump.

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Morning Five: 03.10.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

  1. We love this bracket science stuff, which is reminiscent of some of the work we did when this site was in its infancy nearly three years ago.  It’s good to see Peter Tiernan continuing to do this every year, now for CBS Sportsline.  Maybe the NCAA Selection Committee should bring him on board.  Here’s a taste: best team against seed expectation in the last decade?  Florida.  Worst?  Wake Forest.  Sounds about right.
  2. The NCAA’s Greg Shaheen came out yesterday with the news that there has been no decision made to expand the NCAA Tournament.  Sounds great, but is Mr. Shaheen playing the role of Colin Powell standing before the UN here, or is this more like Mark McGwire’s contention that he only took steroids for health reasons?  Willfully misleading or delusional — you tell us?
  3. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a select movie theater chosen by the NCAA overlords, the Final Four will be shown in living, breathing 3-D.  Because nothing says March Madness like seeing Sherron Collins barreling down the court at you at 100 miles an hour.  We have no idea if this will be incredibly awesome or incredibly lame, but we’ll make sure to send someone out there to check it out.
  4. Speaking of all three dimensions, here’s Seth Davis’ 2010 All-Glue team.  The headliner is Ohio State’s David Lighty, but we also love the Willie Veasley (Butler) and Rick Jackson (Syracuse) picks.
  5. More conference awards today.  POYACC: Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; Big East: Wes Johnson, Syracuse; SEC: John Wall, Kentucky.  COYACC: Gary Williams, Maryland; Big East: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse; SEC: Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt.  FrOY: ACC: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech; Big East: Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati; SEC: DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky.  Some weird goings-on in the SEC there.  First, how does John Wall win POY but not FrOY?  Isn’t he a freshman, and isn’t he the best player in the league according to the voters?  Second, how does Kevin Stallings win COY — DeMarcus Cousins was so shocked he didn’t even know who Stallings was!

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