March of the Big East Madness: The Rich Get Richer with NCAA Selections

Matt Goldberg@@tipofgoldbergCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats looks on from the bench against the South Florida Bulls during the first round of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Yesterday, the rich got richer and the madness seemed to get even more maddening. This has me asking some questions and attempting to arrive at some answers on this Mad Monday.

What is the best part of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, known to most as March Madness or the Big Dance?

Is it Selection Sunday, and the joy of feverishly writing down the actual teams in the actual brackets even if all this will be posted online within a millisecond?

Is it watching the chairman of the selection committee being grilled harder than any political leader?

Is it wondering how this little tourney morphed into a monster that CBS-TV paid $10.8 billion over 14 years to televise? They were joined by broadcast partners TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Is it watching the teams who just missed the field playing on our collective sympathy?

How about the games themselves, and the joy of watching some exciting players or teams that you really haven't seen all year? Anyone?

If you're like me (and it's not that bad a fate, is it?), your answer would be "all of the above."  Certainly, you hope that the games—all 67 of them this year—are worth at least some of the hype. And hey, with so many games, there are bound to be some upsets and a few buzzer-beaters.

This column will not predict which games will go down to the wire, or which teams will advance. My self-appointed task is to take on some of the conventional wisdom that surrounds March Madness.

Dude, You Left Me Out, And...Put Them In?

Have you filled out your brackets yet?

Are you still confused that there are now 68 teams and four play-in games to contend with before the field settles into a manageable 64?

Are you still shocked by the low (or high) seed that your team received, or livid that your team got snubbed altogether?  More on this later, even if my words may not offer you much in the way of consolation, vindication or the delivery of the head of one of the selection committee's members on a platter.

This is just entertainment to most of us, right?

One of my favorite spectacles of this whole mess is watching, hearing and reading the whining of the teams that did not get in.

Let me make my point clear.

If there were only 32 teams in the field, numbers 33-37 would complain.

If there were only 48 teams, numbers 49-53  would whine.

At a true 64, numbers 65-69 groused; and the new 68-team field only ensured that five more teams would belly-ache.

Funny how that works. Would this be any different if you let in fewer than all of the 346 teams that play Division 1 hoops? One day, in the not-too-distant future, a 128-team field will be upon us, and you can bet that Numbers 129-133 will be outraged by their snubs.

RIPs, Snubs and Other Flubs

First: A little background information that you may already know.

Those 346 Division I teams are split into 32 conferences, 31 of which get automatic bids to the tourney. (The 32nd is a conference called the Great West; it's tourney winner, North Dakota, predictably did not make the field.)

Then there's this thing called an RPI, (or Ratings Percentage Index, not Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who may not have an RPI, but could probably figure this stuff out) that's supposed to tell you how good all of these teams are. Basically, it's like the BCS in college football; it works when it favors your team, and stinks when it doesn't.

In a 68-team draw, 37 at-large teams join the 31 automatic bids to complete the field.

That makes sense, but here's where it gets to be a little fun. There are six so-called Power Conferences that rule the land: The Big East, The Big 10, The Big 12, The SEC, The ACC and the Pac-10. Any team outside of these Power Conferences is referred to as a mid-major.

Consider this. Although only 73 of those 346 schools play in Power Conferences, 30 of the 37 at-large bids went to one of those teams. This means that 36 of the 68 teams (more than half) come from these anointed schools, and nearly half of the schools that play in these conferences (36 out of 73) made the field.

This time around, most of the nation's sympathy seems to be with the snubbed basketball programs of power conference schools such as Colorado, Virginia Tech and Alabama. There have also been some outcries on behalf of mid-majors St. Mary's and Missouri State.

In this column, I won't debate whether Virginia Tech or Florida State deserved the ACC's fourth spot, or whether Colorado or Kansas State should have gone to the dance with the fifth ticket handed to the Big 12.

Here's my general point. If any of these teams were that good, they would have distinguished themselves  by their play in the regular season, or at least gotten to the finals of their conference tournaments.

If I were to extend sympathy to any of the excluded, I would reserve it for mid-majors like St. Mary's, Missouri State or Harvard, who won or co-won their regular season and then lost in their conference tourney final. In Harvard's case, (the Ivy League does not have a conference tournament) they lost 63-62 to Princeton on a buzzer-beater in a tiebreaker game.

Would it have hurt the draw any to let Harvard in, and/or St. Mary's or Missouri State and then take out one, two or three teams from the Big East?

In case you were wondering, the Big East had eleven, that's 11, of their 16 schools make the Big Dance.

The Big East...and a Proposal or Two

That was not a typo. 11 of the 16 Big East schools made the draw. If one out of six spots, doesn't seem all that excessive, how about this? 10 out of the 37 at-large bids went to a conference that has fewer than five percent of the eligible schools. That's just insane.

I don't care how hellacious the hoops is in the Big East. It is utterly ridiculous that more than half the teams in any conference get into the Big Dance. This is madness, indeed. 

A case in point is Villanova.  Truth be told, I'm a Philly guy who graduated from Penn, and I love all the Big 5 schools. Villanova's coach, Jay Wright, is one of the classiest guys in sports, and Villanova has done a lot of damage in past NCAAs, including a Final Four appearance a couple years ago.

No matter. When you lose 10 out of your final 15 regular season games, including a first round conference tourney gimme to doormat South Florida (3-15 Big East/10-23 overall), you don't belong in the Big Dance.

I would also take out Marquette and Georgetown; neither team has done nearly enough to merit a spot in this draw. To add insult to injury, all three teams were given relatively friendly seeds.

So, Now What...

It's easy to vent about all this (thanks for reading), and it's easy to lament about the good old days, which in most cases, weren't all that good, anyway. But, what's the use of doing so?

The NCAA powers-that-be are not about to reduce the field—not even back to 64—so advocating shrinkage is just not worth it.

What I do advocate is that no conference should have more than half of its teams get into the dance. Unless the field is expanded to, not even then.

Or, how about this?

Since 36 out of the 68 teams are already Power Conference Schools, just split the field in half. If you insist on 68 teams, have 34 teams from these conferences split into two regions and let the so-called mid-majors duke (lower case) it out in the other two regions.

With this format, you can manufacture a final between a power school and a mid-major. Hey. it worked last year when Butler could have, and should have, knocked off Duke in the final.

And if this proposal does not work, just expand the Big East to 40 teams, and give them 34 of the 68 spots. Make two Big East regions and two, um, non-Big East regions, and see what happens.

Okay, I may have exaggerated to make a point. But did you ever think you'd see a March Madness with 68 teams—11 of them from a single conference?

For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.


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