Increase the Play-In Games, Not the Field

Gene ZarnickCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2010

Does anyone really believe that March Madness is a 65 team tournament?  Even with a play-in game, I think most people still view the tournament as four separate regions consisting of sixteen seeded teams.

That's at least how I view it.  Until you have your name on that perfectly plotted bracket that people drool over every March then you're not part of the tournament.  Sorry Arkansas Pine-Bluff or Winthrop, but that's just how it is.

There's nothing wrong with this thinking though.  I'm sure the coaches of the two aforementioned teams would disagree, but I just don't think that forty years from now, players from Winthrop are going to be telling their grandchildren how they made it to the NCAA tournament and lost to Arkansas Pine-Bluff at the University of Dayton Arena.  I may have to alternate those names if my prediction doesn't hold.

On the other hand, the winning team amongst the two will proudly tell their grandchildren about how they lost to Duke by forty in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  Hopefully I don't have to alternate those names.

The point is that once you receive that seed number next to your team's name then you've made it, you've finally reached one of your major goals as a college basketball player.

Some people want to remove the luster of making it to the tournament by increasing the field to 96. I say just increase the play-in games.

I could go on and on about why increasing the field is a horrible idea. I could even go on and on about a bunch of positives for increasing the field. The only point that really matters is that making the field of 64 is prestigious and increasing the field would only damage what we all consider a great accomplishment for these college athletes. Adding more play-in games would give teams a second chance to officially make the tournament, while also keeping the specialness that is involved with being considered one of the sixty four that is involved.

I think there should be eight play-in games. I think we have a play-in game for each sixteen seed and a play-in game for each twelve seed. By doing this the NCAA would create two whole extra days for the tournament to appear on television, which they care about so they can increase revenue. It would also increase the caliber of teams in the tournament as the weakest eight teams would face off and only the four winners would prevail to become sixteen seeds and have their shot to provide the biggest upset in all of sports.

The four play-in games to determine the twelve seeds would allow those bubble teams that felt they got screwed out of the tournament one last shot to prove their worth. We would get to have four play-in games with all solid teams that actually have a legitimate shot of winning at least a couple games in the tournament and again we would increase the quality of teams by having these play-in games. We would of course still have the debates we love about the teams that got excluded from these play-in games, but most importantly the teams that got in will have achieved their seed, not just got placed there luckily by the tournament committee.

There's never going to be a perfect solution for all the debates, but by increasing the amount of play-in games we could solve many of them. The people who believe the beginning of the season matters as much as the end of the season would still see their bubble teams in the mix. The people who think how you finish matters more would get their chance to see those bubble teams play for a spot. We would increase the quality of the field by eliminating the teams with absolutely no hope before the tournament began and the NCAA could gain two extra days of basketball to increase their television contract revenue.

Most importantly, the tournament would still be considered 64 teams, amongst four regions, seeded numbers 1 through 16, and every team involved would know they've truly accomplished something special.