March Madness: The Current NCAA Basketball Playoff System Is Flawed

Chad HensleyCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2009

The NCAA Men's basketball playoffs is one of the great - some say the greatest - sporting events that we are lucky enough to watch every year. 

It could be better.

The problem with today's system is that the NCAA allows teams into its playoffs that have no business being on the same court as its opponents.

Why let teams "dance" that have no chance of winning the entire thing?

Why let a 12-19 team (who got hot at the right time in their tournament) into it? It's happened. See Florida A&M in 1999.

Now I know people love the small school "Cinderella". 

I know No. 15 seeds have won a game. (I even believe a No. 16 seed could one day beat a No. 1 seed.)

Those things are still possible with an overhaul of the current system.

For simplicity sake, let's just use the RPI that is calculated for each team as the barometer for getting to play in March. (Note: As a final method, I would include other measurements, including human rankings.)

A lot of people will say that taking the top 64 teams eliminates the "small" schools.  It doesn't eliminate them if they schedule decent competition. 

If you look at the link above, the following "small" schools would be included. ("Small" schools means they didn't come from one of the "big" conferences.)

  • Siena
  • Butler
  • Gonzaga
  • Utah St.
  • San Diego St.
  • Western Ky.
  • UAB
  • St. Mary's (CA)
  • Niagara
  • VCU
  • George Mason (who had the ultimate Cinderella run a few years ago)
  • Cleveland St.
  • Tulsa
  • UNI

Why are those schools in the top 64? 

Because they knew their conference schedule isn't as strong, so they scheduled tough games against "big" schools. That is exactly how Gonzaga got to be where they are.

Let's take Cleveland St. for example. They played Washington, Kansas St., Butler (a good "small" school), WVU and Syracuse.

I would have to say that is pretty solid out of conference schedule.

They only beat Syracuse (who is a No. 2 seed), but at least they played the big boys.

Radford, who has 132 RPI, gets to make the tournament, but St Mary's (48 RPI) doesn't? This is insanity.

I was at the Duke/Radford game in 1998 at Rupp Arena.  Corey Maggette had the same amount of points as the Highlanders at the half. 

The 2009 team might be different, but chances are they are going to be blown out by UNC.  It just isn't worth watching.

Now let's look at the seedings in the improved system.

Duke (who would not be the No. 1 seed in my final method), would play Auburn, the No. 64 seed. 

That would be an interesting game, which I would expect Duke to win.  However, Auburn has a decent chance to pull of an upset. 

Instead, Duke is playing Binghamton (RPI 88).  

Could Binghamton beat Duke? Sure, if the stars align I believe it is possible. 

Would they beat the next team? Probably not.  

But I believe Auburn could. And given a few "upsets" in other games, Auburn could go a very long ways as the "last" seed.

That would never happen in the current playoff system.

Auburn can be a Cinderella. It doesn't have to be a "small" school.

In the end, I just believe that teams should be rewarded for playing and winning against a tough schedule. 

If a school doesn't play and win against the "big" schools in the regular season, it shouldn't get a chance to be embarrassed by them in March.


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