The lack of NCAA tournaments in men’s and women’s college basketball shouldn’t stop the NCAA from broadcasting selection shows.
The NCAA canceled both tournaments on Thursday amidst the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It was the right call. Limiting how many people get sick over the next few weeks is of the utmost importance to the country and it quickly became apparent over the last 48 hours that playing the tournament in front of empty arenas wasn’t feasible.
Per the AP, the NCAA tried to even shorten each tournament to a 16-game event. But the NCAA’s Dan Gavitt said that plan was nixed because the governing body couldn’t conduct an abbreviated tournament without risking the health and wellbeing of participants.
Less important than the health of fans and tournament participants is knowing who would have made the field in any of the tournaments. But giving schools and fans a look at what the brackets could have looked like through the traditional televised selection shows is the right call too. And could still happen, according to the NCAA.
"We're hearing today there's interest from coaches and athletic directors from that," Gavitt said. "I wouldn't say we've shut down the idea completely, but there is, practically speaking, it's a bit challenging at this moment. ... There's pluses and minuses to any decision. If you put the field together, you could have teams, depending on that conference's policy, would not be the most obvious choice as the [automatic qualifier]. It's something we're going to continue to look at.
"This has been so fast, so emotional, we'll continue to think on it a little bit."
The NCAA however, seemed to shut the idea down.
"No plans to do that," David Worlock, the tournament’s media coordinator, said Friday, via ESPN. "We hardly started the process. The priority for committee members then was to return home to tend to affairs on campus or conference offices."
We all know a bracket like this wouldn’t be official. There would be no games to play and teams that could have played their way into the field through their canceled conference tournaments would get left out of the hypothetical bracket. That wouldn’t be fun for them.
But that’s part of the normalcy of the selection shows that we’re so used to seeing. And aren’t we all a little desperate for some normalcy now that all sports have effectively been canceled for the foreseeable future? A selection show could easily be done from multiple studios and locations to mimic proper social distancing protocols. Reminders of the gravity of the situation that we’re facing can still be front and center. The escape from our current reality can be framed into the proper context.
The teams that did have great seasons need to be recognized too. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Dayton and star forward Obi Toppin (un)officially seen as a No. 1 seed after an 18-0 run through the Atlantic-10? Or what about giving Penn State, a men’s basketball team that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011 and won a tournament game since 2001, a chance to see itself as a first-round favorite?
On the women’s side, a team like Missouri-Kansas City would get a chance to see itself in the tournament for the first time after winning the WAC regular-season title. And we’d have the chance to see the path that Oregon and star Sabrina Ionescu could potentially have to get to the now-pretend Final Four.
You can look at Gavitt’s quote cynically too. Many coaches get bonuses when their teams make the NCAA tournament. There’s some potential financial incentive for lobbying for a selection show. But if selection shows did happen, coaches would also have the opportunity to donate their bonuses toward those out of work at tournament sites that no longer will have any games to host.
A coach just called with a great idea: release the bracket, pay the coaches all of their bonus $ for making the tourney, pool the bonus $ and donate it to the workers at the NCAA sites who've lost income w/ tourney cancellation. This is BRILLIANT.
— Dana O'Neil (@DanaONeilWriter) March 13, 2020
With more people sitting at home than usual on Sunday thanks to the voluntary protocols many of us have implemented, a selection show for both tournaments would do massive ratings on CBS (men’s) and ESPN (women’s). Again, that’s a small thing to consider given the magnitude of our current situation, but it would be a small win for the NCAA and its TV partners after the cancellation of the tournaments.
It’d be a small win for us too. Having something sports-related to watch for a couple of hours this weekend and discuss endlessly over the following days is undoubtedly a positive. We need the distraction. Even if it’s ultimately meaningless and short-term.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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