July 12, 2010
You can go with this, or you can go with that.
Or, if you're the NCAA, you can go with ... both.
The details of the much-anticipated 68-team field were released this afternoon, and it appears it's going to be an à la carte kind of offering for college hoops fans.
Many speculated whether the NCAA would choose to go with four games that featured eight low-major teams. Clubs like Morehead State and Alabama State, pictured above, who were always on display in Tuesday's lean-in/play-in/opening-round game of the tournament.
Others thought four opening-round games that featured BCS conference teams playing for the right to be a 12-seed (think a Virginia Tech-Utah State type of showdown that would've fit the description last season). The thinking behind that model was how fans would flock to television sets and the actual sites to watch their teams. Bigger schools have bigger fanbases, bring bigger money, etc.
But, in the end, the NCAA chose to go with a combination of both. A "hybrid" method that it's dubbing the "First Four." (Nice marketing.) It's not a total shock, but it's a formula many doubted before and one some will most certainly be critical of now.
Here's how it will work.
• Four automatic qualifiers will play in two games for the right to be slotted against No. 1 seeds, and four at-large/bubble teams will play for the right to go up against a seed that will be announced on Selection Sunday. One pair could be playing for an 11, and the other a 12. They could both be playing for two 10s. No strict guidelines yet to how this will be determined.
• All the games will be on truTV. Why? The CBS/Turner wants to give the channel a chance to expand. No guarantee truTV will be the permanent home for these games come 2012 and beyond.
• All four games will be broadcast in primetime. That likely means Tuesday-Wednesday.
• Re: where and when games will take place, from the NCAA release: "The schedule and location of the 2011 First Four games will be announced in the coming weeks. We will examine all options moving forward, and that includes playing the first-round games at one site on one date, at multiple sites on multiple dates, or any combination therein,” [Dan] Guerrero said.
1) Accountability for the major-conference teams. The big boys have to shut up if they don't win. Sure, we're going to have a school or two bicker if they miss the CHANCE to play in the play-in, but there's no whining to be done after the play-in has been completed. Win to get into the main field.
2) Transparency. We will now know the final teams chosen in the field. A true "final four" of at-larges. Only thing is, they'll be slated according to RPI.
3) They listened. And this goes for the whole process. Many doubted the NCAA's ability to actually react and respond to the desires of its critics. The NCAA obliged by not expanding the field to 96 teams, and then cooked up this combination of formats to try and appease as many people as possible.
1) Only two true 16 seeds. It's an unfair balance to the other two auto qualifiers who get to play in the 1 vs. 16 game without having to jump an extra hoop.
2) No true 10, 11, 12 seed? What's with this floating seeding concept? It's a concoction for furious debate, that's for sure. How do you justify having two teams play for a potential 10-seed ... then let another team enter the field as a 12 without having to play? Unless said team is an automatic qualifier, this seems extremely, extremely flawed. By nature, a 10-seed is a better, more qualified team than a 12.
3) Bracket mess. This is the one that directly affects you, even if it is minuscule in the big picture. With two games to be decided that will have impact on a 6/11, 7/10 or 5/12 matchups, getting all your friends' and coworkers' picks in before the games begin Tuesday will be an absolute headache. If the NCAA had decided to have all eight teams be 16 and 17 seeds, pools would have pretty much continued to operate as they always had.
4) Confusion. It's going to take awhile to train the casual fan to understand just what in the world is going on in the opening round. But, naturally, comprehension won't matter anyway; the clueless guy or gal who picks according to color scheme and team nickname is going to take first place, and you know it.
In a bit, we'll have reaction from coaches, plus plenty more commentary/reaction from around the web. I'm not even going to start on the RPI aspect of this.