Why the NCAA Tournament Can't Be Recession-Proof

Mike McCurdyContributor IMarch 28, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 26:  The tip-off between the Missouri Tigers and the Memphis Tigers in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Phoenix Stadium on March 26, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Before I begin, I want to thank Mr. Dave Walker for writing a piece that originally sparked my interest in what I am writing about today.  He explains his views on the NCAA Tournament, its lagging attendance, and what to do about it.  Read his article here.

There's only one true way to guarantee improved attendance in the NCAA tournament games.  You have to make every regional game within driving distance of the biggest names in the region.

Furthermore, you could ensure better attendance by making sure that most or all of the teams in a given region were relatively close to the game site.

So let's play that scenario out: four regions, 64 teams, split into neat little geographic quarters like the pie I'll never learn how to bake.

The East bracket would look something like this, in no particular order:

North Carolina, Pittsburgh, VCU, Wake Forest, Akron, Boston College, Cornell, Maryland, Binghamton, UConn, Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville, Xavier, Villanova, Duke.

I should also mention that plenty more teams are on the East Coast, including Temple, American, Robert Morris, Cleveland St., Morgan State, Siena.  Where do we put them?  

The South region would look something like this (again, in no particular order):

Texas, Florida State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, LSU, Texas A&M, Memphis, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Clemson, Stephen F. Austin, Radford, Mississippi State, Western Kentucky, Alabama State, and.... well... does anyone have a 16th team for the South region that I'm missing?

You get the basic idea of the picture I'm painting (forgive me, I'm no Bob Ross).  Several thoughts here:

1.  As ridiculous of a proposal I have stated here, can we at least agree that this would be the only real way to ensure that the NCAA Tournament is attended by the greatest number of fans?

2.  When you load regions with teams from only that region, eventually the games will start to resemble conference tournaments.  Fans have already paid to see that, and no matter which teams we're talking about, nobody wants to see Team X vs. Team Y for the third or fourth time this year.

3.  What do you do with the East Coast?  There are over 20 teams from the East Coast in the tournament this year and only 16 spots in the East regional.  Do you put 17-20 in another region?  What if #17 is Boston College and the regional site is TD Banknorth Gardens?

4.  If you are an East Region team, how upset would you be at the West this year?  UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, Portland State, Utah, Gonzaga, BYU, Washington, Utah State, Cal, Northridge, and four other throw-ins is hardly the region that the East region would be.  

If you're following me to this point, I'm probably preaching to the choir.  Splitting the 64 teams into four geographical regions within the country isn't in the best interest of college basketball.  It may result in increased attendance for a year or two, but eventually there would be less interest in certain regions.  

While attendance may be increased overall, TV ratings would plummet until the Final Four.  Even then, here's guessing that TV ratings would reflect the opinion that the true champion was crowned when the strongest region's Final Four participant was decided.

TV ratings mean more advertising dollars, which of course, is part of keeping the tournament afloat.

So, in the interest of college basketball, it may be best to keep the current system.  Is it fair that North Carolina gets to play in its home state for the first weekend every year?  Probably not, but do you think they would have had trouble with Radford and LSU in any corner of the world?  Probably not.

The NCAA committee is a group of people who take their jobs very seriously.  They know that they're being watched closely.  They have watched a lot of basketball and consulted each other in order to arrive at the best possible tournament field, especially this year, considering the economy.  

I don't tell my attorney how to get me out of that darn traffic ticket, because I don't know as much about the legal system as he does.  We'd be short-sighted to think that we could seed the field better than someone who makes it his or her full-time job.