Should the NCAA Tournament Borrow Any Ideas from the World Cup Format?

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Should the NCAA Tournament Borrow Any Ideas from the World Cup Format?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Like the vast majority of self-proclaimed sports fans, I have slipped hopelessly into the addictive vortex of World Cup group play.

But as someone who always has college basketball on the brain, it's fun to wonder what the NCAA tournament would look like in this World Cup format.

First and foremost, the selection and seeding process would remain unchanged. For as much as we inevitably complain about teams that should have gotten better or worse seeds—or others who should or should not have made the tournament—the committee gets it right far more often than not.

Which tournament format is better?

Submit Vote vote to see results

And frankly, there isn't a much better way to create 16 pods while rewarding the schools that had the best seasons.

Beyond Selection Sunday, though, things get a little crazy.

Instead of the winner of No. 1 vs. No. 16 simply playing the winner of No. 8 vs. No. 9 to see which advances to the Sweet 16, all four teams in that pod are guaranteed three tournament games.

This is an improvement on the current format for three major reasons.

First: We would be blessed with nearly twice as many tournament games as there are in the current format.

Rather than 32 second-round games and 16 third-round games, there would be 96 games played before the Sweet 16. Instead of just the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament being the greatest days in any given calendar year, there are 16 games on each of six consecutive days in this format.

Good luck selling wives and employers on that, but think about how much more advertising revenue the NCAA would be collecting in that scenarioand with the hidden win-win for all of us being that its getting more money without foolishly expanding the field to 96 or 128 teams.


Speaking of revenue, the second benefit is that fans of all four teams in each pod would have much more of an incentive to actually attend the games. It's downright painful to look around the arena of early-round tournament games and see thousands upon thousands of people dressed up as empty seats.

Are you more likely to go tournament games if you know your favorite team will play three games there?

Submit Vote vote to see results

After all, why would more than a dozen crazy people from Cal Poly want to fly out to St. Louis to watch their team play one game against Wichita State and get destroyed?

If each team gets a minimum of three games, though, not only would more fans attend their team's games, but they may even go to the other three games in that pod because of the potential implications of each game.

Twice as many early-round games and twice as many people at each one? I wonder if I could charge a finder's fee for all that extra ticket revenue.

Third: The best teams have a better chance of avoiding one bad night that ruins six long months of hard work.

Last year, Oklahoma got a bad draw, VCU was without a key player and Cincinnati couldn't buy a bucket against Harvard. Those three teams combined to win 76 games, but didn't even survive to see the first Saturday of the tournament.


In this World Cup format, each school would have been in serious trouble after losing that opening game, but also would have had an opportunity to redeem itself in the next two games.

So now that you've been completely sold on the benefits, how exactly would it work?

As opposed to the World Cup, in which the top two teams advance from each group, there would be only one team moving on from each pod. Each win is worth one point (or 8,000 points if your heart so desires), and the team with the highest score advances.

There are four possible outcomes from each groupthree of which are simple and a fourth that could get absolutely insane.

Scenario No. 1: Team A wins three games while Teams B, C and D each win one game. Clearly, Team A advances.

Scenario No. 2: Team A wins three games, Team B wins two games, Team C wins one game and Team D goes winless. Again, Team A is the obvious victor.

Scenario No. 3: Teams A and B each win two games and Teams C and D each win one game. The team that won the head-to-head battle between A and B would advance.

Scenario No. 4: Teams A, B and C each win two games while Team D wins no games. When this happens, I propose things stay true to World Cup format and the tiebreaker is decided by point differential. And if there is a tie in point differential, the head coaches square off in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Just imagine the potential drama in the final game of a group if a team knows in advance that it needs to win the game by at least X points in order to advance. And imagine if X is 30 and they're just shooting three-pointers nonstop from the opening tip.


By now, you've probably progressed to the most important question of all: Would we still be able to do (completely for fun, no money at all) office pools?


You can tinker with the scoring, but here's my proposal: Every single game in the group stage is worth one point. Picking the correct winner from each group is worth three points. Sweet 16 games are worth five points, Elite Eight games count for 10, Final Four games are worth 15 and picking the national champion gives you 25 points.

Or, it could run like the World Cup pool I'm in right now. Everyone picks who they think will advance from each group, and then they make a second set of picks after the Sweet 16 is set. Again, the scoring system is totally up to you, but who doesn't love a chance at redemption after a few early predictions go haywire?

Look, I love the NCAA tournament the way it is. For my money, it's the most exciting "playoff" system on the planet. But the World Cup isn't far behind.

It'll never happen, but it sure would be fun to have the best of both worlds.

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

Follow B/R on Facebook


Subscribe Now

By signing up for our newsletter, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Thanks for signing up.