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KEVIN CRAFT at THE ATLANTIC: TWEAK the NCAAS to help SMALLER SCHOOLS! I ADD A TWEAK: ALL REGULAR SEASON WINNERS go to the TOURNEY!

Kevin Craft at the Atlantic has a great suggestion:  Make the conference winners in the round of 64 and use the play-in games to weed out the bubble teams.  He calls it the “one tweak” that would make the NCAA tourney more exciting:

There is, however, one minor adjustment which, if implemented, could make March Madness even better: tweaking the opening-round games, more commonly known as the play-in games, to give more schools from non-power conferences a shot at pulling first-round upsets.

His arguments are compelling:

This season James Madison University (JMU), winner of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, defeated LIU Brooklyn, winner of the Northeast Conference tournament, in one play-in game, while North Carolina A&T, winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, defeated Liberty, winner of the Big South Conference tournament, in another. As a result, JMU and Carolina A&T will participate in normal tournament play, while LIU Brooklyn and Liberty head home before the Big Dance really kicks off.

This strikes me as unfair, and it contradicts the essence of what makes March Madness so great. The beauty of college basketball is end-of-year conference tournaments give smaller schools access to the Big Dance. *  *  *  Prior to the birth of the play-in game, all conference winners knew they would have the opportunity to compete on either the first Thursday or Friday of the tournament, two of the most iconic days in all of American sports.

I have blogged on this feature and called for the regular season winners to get automatic bids in the NCAA.  Here’s Craft’s thesis:

Thus, the NCAA selection committee should create a rule stipulating all conference tournament champions are exempt from opening-round games. These opening-round play-in contests could then become the forum through which “bubble” teams from power conferences like the Big Ten, the Big East, and the ACC compete for the final slots in the Big Dance.

Again, i would add that the one seed in each conference would get into the NCAAs.  Now they could be in play-in games if they did not win their conference tourney along with re-treads from the major conferences.  But the conference tourney winners would advance to the so-called second round.  That way every conference, no matter how small, gets their best team in the NCAA tournament.  The major conferences get this now through the at-large system.  I think this would build two kinds of excitement:  The major conference retreads would in effect get a second chance and that may save the jobs of a few coaches.  The smaller conferences get their best team in the NCAAs, too as well as sometimes the tournament winner.  (All conferences must admit ALL their league members in the conference tourney unless academically or otherwise ineligible.)  Maybe also have the first round losers fill out the NIT field as a second chance tournament.  That would take some sting out of that first round loss, especially a upset loser such as Georgetown (Wasn’t that something?  I had to ask:  Where is Florida Gulf Coast?  [Ft. Myers]  What conference are they in?  [The Atlantic Sun]) would have at least one more game to play – in the NIT.   If it takes a few extra play-in games, so be it.  It’ll be a winner for everyone and it maintains the integrity of the structure that mandates that every conference has their best team in the NCAAs.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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