The NCAA is doing a number of things to commemorate 75 years of the men's basketball tourney: having games in Kansas City, Dayton and Philadelphia (the three most common tourney sites in NCAA history) and having D-I, D-II and D-III finals all in the same city.
One thing they haven't brought back is the consolation game. The 3rd-place game was dropped decades ago; there were even regional third place games.
It's time to bring all five of those consolation games back.
There were three main reasons why consolation games were dropped. One is that there might not be a market for TV coverage. Another is that third-place games didn't sell enough tickets. And the third was that people in consolation games have nothing to play for (in fact, it may have been Bill Walton's refusal to play in a consolation game that sank consolation games more than any other one factor). In today's environment, all are invalid.
In terms of the TV coverage, the national 3rd place game was dropped just as an infant ESPN was beginning to televise early-round games. Nowadays, even play-ins between Liberty and North Carolina A&T are televised, as are many games of the "Not Invited Tournament." With dozens of cable sports channels, and the Fox Cable Sports Network soon coming online, there's certainly one that would shell out $250,000 for the rights to a national 3rd-place game.
Furthermore, it's worth noting that most Sweet Sixteen teams are either marquee programs like Kansas and Duke, or else Cinderellas like VCU or George Mason that fans have quickly fallen in love with. In an era when some of those teams have their own TV networks, you could get people to watch the consolation games.
Should the NCAA Bring back consolation games?
And as for the butts-in-seats argument, it's worth noting that most of the cities with tourney-sized domes (San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa) also have NBA-sized arenas that have hosted or can host NCAA games (Scottrade Center and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, for example). Remember that when the 3rd-place game was cut, championship games were still being played in places like Freedom Hall and the San Diego Sports Arena.
For the "nothing-to-play-for" argument, I can just cite the continued existence of the NIT, and the addition of two more consolation tournaments in the CIT and CBI. And remember, in the NCAA's other big-revenue sport of football, there has been a continual addition of consolation games in the form of minor bowl games such as the Pinstripe, GoDaddy.com and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowls, all of which had their first contest in the post-consolation game era.
Ironically, the same Buffalo Wild Wings that sponsors the Arizona bowl game is currently airing a commercial during the tourney of barflies begging someone to add more games to the tourney. And when adding consolation games, you don't add games featuring teams with 12 or 13 losses, or teams from bottom-tier conferences. You add games featuring teams that have won two or more games in the NCAA tournament.
Bottom line: bring back the consolation game.