The NCAA Tournament is arguably the best playoff system of any of the major sports in America.
However, this year's tournament didn't provide as many of the natural fireworks and memorable moments, thus prompting many articles to be written across the blogosphere that discuss the problems of the setup of the tournament.
For now, the tournament is fine the way it is. Three weekends of intense basketball action and just about the right number of teams. The opening round game is a bit out of place given the nature of the tournament, but a necessity according to NCAA by-laws that state there must be 34 at-large teams.
That number will potentially be called into question in 2020, when the Great West Conference, which begins play next year, will be eligible to receive an automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament.
Thirty-four at-large teams, in addition to 32 conference qualifiers, means there will be 66 teams in the tournament. A second opening round game would likely be the easiest fix to this problem.
But by 2020, the current system of essentially 64 teams and six rounds will be 35 years old. To date, a No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1, and only a handful of No. 15s have ever beaten the No. 2 seed.
If this trend continues, we'll eventually get to a point where there will be wide-spread displeasure with the system. The No. 16 seed is almost a death sentence now, and 11 more years of constant poundings will only worsen the situation.
With 32 conference qualifiers in 2020, it would make sense to amend the NCAA by-laws to include only 32 at-large teams.
With an equal number of teams gaining bids through the two qualifiers, the system can now be tweaked.
Instead of having one s-curve under the current system, there would be two s-curves. Currently, the 65 teams selected are ranked one to 65 and the bracket is filled out based on those rankings. Some teams get moved around a little bit to fit other stipulations for playing a team in a bracket, but generally the bracket is reflected as the teams ranked one to 65.
Under the new system, the conference qualifiers would be ranked one through 32; the same would be done for the at-large qualifiers.
The one seeds would come from each of the two groups. Two No. 1 seeds would be at-large teams, the other top seeds would be conference qualifiers.
The regions would then be comprised of teams from both groups. In a region where the top seed is an automatic qualifier, the No. 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, and 16 seeds would also be automatic qualifiers. In a region where the top seed is an at-large team, at-large teams would be the 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, and 16 seeds.
In the Sweet 16, there would be eight at-large qualifiers and eight automatic qualifiers.
At-large teams would, in general, have a tougher road to the Final Four. For example, an at-large team that's a No. 1 seed would would have to face another at-large team seeded as a 16. The final at-large team this year was either Arizona or Wisconsin, which would be a much tougher test for a top seed.
The teams that qualify automatically from weaker conferences would also have more hope to win a game. A team that currently ranks as a 15 seed could jump all the way up to a 13 seed and potentially play the eighth best automatic qualifier.
The eighth best team this year would be Utah. If you're Cal State-Northridge, arguably the eighth worst of the automatic qualifiers, you'd probably like your chances a lot more against Utah than Memphis.
This would put an emphasis on winning a conference tournament. Teams that don't automatically qualify deserve to have a slightly tougher road to a championship.
In effect, the regular season would mean a little more, as would the conference tournaments.
If there are two potential one-seeds in the same conference (or three in the case of the Big East), winning the conference could be the difference between playing Alabama State or Arizona in the first round.
This system would also help television ratings from the standpoint that more first round games are going to be closer games between better teams.
Looking at this year's bracket, this is how the two s-curves would roughly look:
Louisville, North Carolina, Memphis, Missouri, Gonzaga, Purdue, Utah, Siena, USC, VCU, Utah State, Temple, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, Cleveland State, Mississippi State, Portland State, Akron, North Dakota State, Cornell, American, Stephen F. Austin, Cal-State Northridge, Robert Morris, Binghamton, Morgan State, Radford, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Morehead State, Alabama State.
Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Duke, Villanova, Syracuse, Kansas, Wake Forest, Washington, Xavier, Florida State, Illinois, Arizona State, Marquette, West Virginia, UCLA, Texas, Boston College, Clemson, California, Oklahoma State, LSU, Ohio State, Butler, BYU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Dayton, Arizona, Wisconsin
The bracket would roughly look like this:
(Despite their first round wins, Wisconsin and Arizona get knocked out in this format of 32 at-large teams in favor of one more automatic qualifier from the Great West. Seeding rules are also broken for the sake of the example.)
1 Louisville vs 16 Great West qualifier
8 Cleveland State vs 9 Akron
4 Kansas vs 13 Butler
5 Wake Forest vs 12 Ohio State
2 Michigan State vs 15 Maryland
7 Arizona State vs 10 Boston College
3 Gonzaga vs 14 Chattanooga
6 Utah State vs 11 American
1 North Carolina vs 16 Alabama State
8 Mississippi State vs 9 Portland State
4 Syracuse vs 13 BYU
5 Washington vs 12 LSU
2 Oklahoma vs 15 Michigan
7 Illinois vs 10 Clemson
3 Purdue vs 14 Radford
6 Temple vs 11 Stephen F. Austin
1 Pittsburgh vs 16 Dayton
8 Marquette vs 9 Texas
4 Utah vs 13 Morgan State
5 Southern California vs 12 Cal-State Northridge
2 Memphis vs 15 Morehead State
7 Northern Iowa vs 10 Cornell
3 Duke vs 14 Tennessee
6 Florida State vs 11 California
1 Connecticut vs 16 Minnesota
8 West Virginia vs 9 UCLA
4 Siena vs 13 Binghamton
5 Virginia Commonwealth vs 12 Robert Morris
2 Missouri vs 15 East Tennessee State
7 Western Kentucky vs 10 North Dakota State
3 Villanova vs 14 Texas A&M
6 Xavier vs 11 Oklahoma State