Anyone who believes that the NCAA Tournament field is watered down has not turned on a single game during March. With expansion wrapping its arms around many of this country’s beloved sports, the NCAA did not resist that notion.
Even though rumors swirled about possible tournament expansion from 64 teams to 96 or more, five new recipients were ushered in over the past two seasons.
Early remarks about the new “First Four” airing on truTV were laughable. However, Virginia Commonwealth was one of the last four teams in the field featured in the “first round” games on the supposed unknown network.
With the VCU Rams’ successful run through the big dance and making an improbable run to the Final Four, fans in Richmond, VA are the only ones laughing now.
Change is not always a concept that should be thrown to the wolves. If growth was not part of athletics and the spirit of competition, none of us would be exposed to the ever-changing game of football.
Just think of the NFL without all of the former American Football League teams that merged with the NFL in 1970 and even in the ten years prior. Some of the most memorable moments in sports history would not exist if these match-ups did not occur. No dynasty for the New England or the then Boston Patriots. The city rivalry between the New York Giants and the Jets or Titans back then, would not exist.
And potentially worst of all, no Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders, or the great Al Davis to fill our lives with light-hearted sports humor.
The point is that change, growth and expansion all improve the overall product of the games we watch.
For college basketball, the slight addition of one team last season and four new bids this spring, both enhanced viewer appeal and the overall atmosphere of the tournament. Plus, Turner Entertainment received lucrative deals to broadcast the extra four games.
Honestly, who doesn’t like the single-game elimination format?
Each and every game in the tournament is an “end-all, be-all” circumstance. So, even further expansion should not be out of the question. The “watered down” theory would become more prevalent, however, the contrary might be true.
Everyone’s fear of twenty-point drubbings and thirty-point thrashings in the early rounds might come true, but that already occurs in the tournament. Top-seeded Ohio State crushed UT-San Antonio by 29. Florida dismantled UC-Santa Barbara by 28 points.
But it is not just the heavyweights knocking out the lowly featherweights, Michigan beat Tennessee by 30, albeit with the NCAA hovering over Knoxville.
Blowouts will inevitably happen with or without, further expansion, but if you like nail-biting finishes, buzzer-beating heroics and CBS play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson enhancing even the oddest matchups into unforgettable television, then more teams, more games and more rounds is music to your ears.
More teams also means more schools taking on the role of Cinderella when it matters most.
Few envisioned the Connecticut Huskies to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, even after being crowned Big East Champions. Normally, a ninth-placed team in a conference has no shot at winning the national championship, but in the “Big Dance,” anything can happen.
After all, the beauty of March Madness is watching “Cinderella” try on her glassy slippers and see how far they take her. Butler University is back again for a second shot at cutting down the nets, without Duke in their way.
Hands down, Virginia Commonwealth has surprised the sports world.
VCU has won more games, (five), than anyone in the entire tournament and many fully expected the University of Southern California to oust the Rams before the “real party” started. In fact, many ESPN experts gawked at the idea of extending a bid to the Rams, at all.
Now, the Rams are not only crashing the party, but come Monday night, VCU could be the award-winning guests of honor.
Either way you cut it, the country will have another “David vs. Goliath” college basketball entertainment spectacle.
The power conferences are represented by Kentucky and Connecticut and the so-called “Mid-Majors” or underdogs in the bout are the aforementioned VCU Rams and Butler Bulldogs.
Our country loves a true underdog story or a fairy tale journey by witnessing it live and in a National Championship setting, it's even more exhilarating.
Remember the Boise State Broncos in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma? Fans from across the country joined together and praised the “little school that could, and did”. However, that was not for the title of National Champions.
Either Butler or VCU can see their journey through to the finish and become champions of the college basketball landscape.
Are you ready to crown one of them “the best of 2010-11”?
If you are, then hop on the expansion-bandwagon, because Monday night’s contest could be their launching point.
College basketball purists, pull the wool over your eyes, because your worst nightmare might come true.