Hello, college basketball fans!
If the latest Schmolik 64 Update holds to form, St. John's and Kentucky could potentially meet in a "third round" (if you consider the First Four as the first round that is).
Want to see it live, St. John's and Kentucky fans? No problem, just a short plane ride to... Denver.
Connecticut vs. Vanderbilt? The game would be in Tucson, Arizona.
Each year, the NCAA has four regional sites for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds and eight sites for the second and third rounds. Each year one regional site and two second/third round sites are in the West.
The NCAA assigns teams to regions partially based on geography and partially based on competitive balance of all four regions. They also assign teams to second/third round sites for the first weekend.
Teams are assigned in groups of four teams or pods (sixteen pods total, two pods assigned to each of the eight sites). The No. 1 seeds are assigned to sites first, usually to sites that are nearest to the schools.
The last of the top four seeds to be assigned are the No. 4 seeds and usually they get the least desirable locations. Most often the No. 4 seeds are assigned to the Western sites. In the last two NCAA tournaments, three of the four No. 4 seeds played in a Western site (Mountain or Pacific time zones).
So, those are the sites that are most likely the sites teams least want to go to.
The top 16 teams (top four seeds) are supposed to have priority as to site location. In the ideal case, two of the top 16 are close to each of those sites and everyone is happy.
But, when more than two top 16 teams are close to a given site, one or more of them have to be reassigned. On the other hand, if one (or no) top 16 teams are close to a given site, one or more teams have to be flown in to fill the void.
If there are two NCAA opening weekend sites in the west, there will be four top 16 teams that have to be assigned there. Ideally, there would be four top 16 teams from the West every year and those four would be assigned to those sites.
Well, since the pod system was introduced in 2002 there have never been four Western teams among the top 16 teams in any one season. In the past nine seasons, there have been only 21 Western teams seeded one through four, an average of 2.33 per season.
That means the Western sites always have to be filled in by other schools, forcing top four seeds to travel all the way to the west.
At the same time, top four seeds that are from the West have always been assigned to a Western site and never placed out of their geographical region. Someone has to fill those spots. This year, BYU is in contention for a No. 1 seed.
But as long as they are a top four seed, they are guaranteed to play their first two games in the west. Same with San Diego State.
What about the Big East? Only two top four seeds can play in Washington DC. So if three or more teams in the Big East are in the top four, one or more is going to have to be moved out.
One year Duke was a No. 2 seed and was not permitted to play in Raleigh, North Carolina because two other teams were already assigned there (Duke was upset that weekend).
Is a system fair when the top teams in the West never have to travel elsewhere and top teams from other parts of the country always have to fill those spots? I don't think so.
There clearly aren't enough good teams out West on a regular basis. Why should the West be allowed to have two sites in the opening weekend when they always have to import top four seeded teams to fill them (in nine years they have never had four teams in the top 16)?
It gets worse. If a Michigan State or a Maryland have to travel to California, there are worse places to spend a weekend than Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Last year, the Spartans and Terrapins, two teams that won national championships since 2000, had to play a second round game in the great city of Spokane, Washington! It's one thing to have to travel 2000 miles to a fun city, but who wants to travel 2000 miles to some small town in the boon docks?
Granted, there are small towns in other parts of the US that host NCAA games but they often have teams close by that are assigned there (you can count on either Duke or North Carolina or both to be assigned to North Carolina sites every time one of them hosts).
This isn't the first time Spokane has hosted the NCAA's.
They have hosted three times since 2003. Since then, Philadelphia has hosted the NCAA's twice in the same span. So has Chicago (they host it again this year). Since 1989, NCAA games were played in Boise, Idaho seven times (more than Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington). Spokane Arena and Taco Bell Arena in Boise hold fewer than 13,000 fans. Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois holds more people (16,618) but hasn't hosted the NCAA Tournament any time in my memory.
Why does the NCAA insist on having NCAA games in sites that can't even fit 13,000 fans when they can have them at other sites that fit at least 20,000 fans?
Only place one NCAA opening weekend site in the West (Mountain or Pacific Time Zones). If there are three or more top 16 teams out West, one team has to be moved out.
Teams from all other parts of the US have been forced to go out West; why shouldn't a team from the West have to travel outside of its region once in a while?
Every once in a while, the NCAA does not have a West Regional. This year, there is no Midwest Regional and all Big Ten teams have to hop on a plane to get to a regional. If the Big Ten can go a year without a regional site in its home region, why can't the Pacific 10 (12)? One year, make it the East, Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest.
Require a minimum capacity of 15,000 to host NCAA games. There should be plenty of arenas available, especially if you don't have to place three sites (two opening weekend and one regional weekend) in the West.
The moral: If all four regionals (East, Midwest, South, and West) were equally represented in college basketball, then each regional should get to host NCAA tournament games equally.
The West Regional is historically the least represented (at least at the top four seed level). So, they should get to host fewer NCAA games than the other areas. They are also the farthest area away from most of the top teams in college basketball (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC).
Most teams would rather not travel to the West (especially to tiny cities like Boise or Spokane). So, have more NCAA games in the East Coast so travel is reduced across the US and the share of long distance travel is spread more evenly.