Monday, March 12, 2012

Hey, NCAA - Let's Get Rid of At-Large Bids!

Many basketball fans (and more than a few of the talking heads in the media) make great hay from the NCAA's basketball tournament selections, especially when comparing conferences.  We spend weeks talking about "the bubble", which teams might be relegated to the "First Four" play-in games, possible seeding...and on and on and on.  Well, I'm tired of it, and a friend of mine tossed off an idea whose time may well have come.

Conference exemptions.

Imagine that a conference whose teams "outperform their seeding" in the rounds of 64, 32 and 16 earns an extra automatic bid to the next year's NCAA tournament; to be awarded by the conference, NOT the NCAA.  This would reward those conferences whose teams exceed expectations, and it would cut down on the middle- and lower-echelon teams from the 'power' conferences who always get the lion's share of at-large bids.  Let's see how last year's NCAA tournament would have affected this year's bracket...

Several major conferences performed (on the whole) in keeping with their seedings.  For instance, the SEC picked up a +1 from UK's performance as a 4-seed, but went -1 when 5-seed Vanderbilt was upset in the first round.  Ditto for the ACC: UNC performed as its #2 seed would imply, Duke cost them -1 for an early exit, and FSU gave them +1 for its upset win in the first round, so the ACC as a whole met its seedings.  Neither conference would have picked up an exemption for this year's tournament.

So, performance-against-seeding looked like this for those conference who exceeded (or failed to live up to) their various seeds:

  • CAA: +1 (VCU)
  • Pac12: +1 (Arizona)
  • OVC: +1 (Morehead State)
  • WCC: +1 (Gonazga)
  • Horizon: +1 (Butler)

Those five teams would have earned an extra "conference exemption" team in this year's field.  Who would have missed the boat?

  • Big Ten: -1 (OSU's early exit)
  • MWC: -2 (SDSU, UNLV)
  • Big12: -2 (Texas, Texas A&M)
  • Big East: -5 (St John's, Pitt, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville)

The exemptions would only be for the next year's tournament, but continued success (e.g. continued performance above seeding level) would earn exemptions for the following year.  This would give small and mid-major conferences a real chance to build their overall conference strength.

I don't know about you, but I'd certainly rather see extra teams from conferences that pull off upsets than at-large teams from "power" conferences that underperform year after year.  This year, we could have added Tennessee State (the only team to beat #9 Murray State this year) from the OVC, and BYU (from the WCC) wouldn't have to be in a play-in game; Valparaiso, upset in the Horizon League final after winning the regular season, wouldn't be banished to the NIT.

What do you think?

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