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Making the Case for a Second MAC Team in the NCAA Tournament

It’s not as crazy as you think

Kenneth Bailey

The NCAA tournament, March Madness, is a sports fan’s paradise. Everyday I run into someone that says they don’t follow college basketball, but they watch the tournament. It’s great, the country loses billions in labor from people taking off work, but then makes it back with all the games and commercials, give or take a few 100 million.

However, it’s terrible for determining a champion. 68 teams that all played a regular season, slammed together in a one loss and you’re out tournament. Basketball is a sport where match-ups are extremely important, and teams go hot and cold. There is a reason why the NBA uses a series of series to determine a champion.

I have long given up on changing the way the NCAA tournament crowns a champion. Not only have I resigned myself to the fact that it is only going to get bigger, I have grown to appreciate it. Not that I ever hated it. I, too, enjoy taking off work and watching the basketball orgy that is the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament. I have grown to love it. There are very few better viewing pleasures than watching a 15 seed school that doesn’t really deserve to be there knocking off a number 2 seed on a last second shot. The raw emotion they display as they celebrate literally moves me to tears. Just don’t tell anyone or I will kill you.

But the fact remains it’s a terrible way to determine a champion or the most deserving team. There is a reason why Sandy in accounting always wins the office pool by picking the team with the toughest mascot or the prettiest team colors. No sane person picks a 15 to knock off a 2, and I’d have to see it to believe it happening in a 5 games series. We aren’t trying to pick the best team with the NCAA tournament, we are making entertaining basketball.

One thing that does happen in the tournament is that the cream rises to the top. The actual champion may, or may not, be the best team, but in the last 10 years, only 2 seeds lower than 8 have made the final 4. One from a power conference, and one from a mid-major. And that’s where my argument begins.

There are three distinct classes of teams. The top 16 teams, which are 4 seeds and above. The “truly deserving”, if you will. Then there are the next 16 teams, which have a better chance than the last class of making the final 4, and are usually made up of teams from the power conferences. The eight seeds and above. The lowest seed to win an NCAA tournament since they moved to 64 teams is an 8. Then there are the bottom 32+4 teams, usually made up of the teams from the smaller conferences. They have never made a final 4, but have provided some of the most memorable moments in NCAA tournament history.

Basically, these guys are the underdog knocks off a Goliath class. They are not there to win the tournament, just provide entertainment and few buzz worthy last second shot wins each year. So why is this group being littered with sub-par power teams?

Let me put it to you this way. Would you, and the nation, rather watch Wake Forrest with 12 losses knock off a Duke, or would you like to see a smaller school do it? We have already established that the tournament, especially in the bottom half, isn’t there to win it all. We are not looking for the better team in these lower seeds.

As for who deserves it more, I would argue that the MAC team with the better record does. Wake has a lot of things going for it to make it a better team. More money, better access to recruits, and they pay their coach a lot more money. If they are the better team, it’s only natural. With these advantages, they slogged their way to a middle of the pack record. Ohio, after fighting through a tough injury, managed a pretty good record in their conference.

Now what if Akron, who locked up the MAC a while ago, happens to drop one game to a talented team in the MAC tournament? They actually have the argument that they might be better than the muddling power team, and finished the season with a much better record. We do play to win the game, correct?

So my point is simple. The top 16 teams should be made up of the best 16 teams. They are the teams that usually win, and that’s the way it should be. The next 16 teams can be the rest of the power teams that have had a nice season, with a few smaller schools that could be really good thrown in. The rest should be the underdog. So my proposition is simple.

The top 32 seeds should be reserved for the power conferences and the bottom 32+4 belong to the “lesser” conferences. If lower conference teams are deemed worthy for spots in the top 32, you can give the entitled those spots in the bottom group. You could determine these bottom 32+4 teams a variety of ways. Personally, I would give the mid-major conferences two spots, one for the regular season champion, and one for the tournament champion. If that’s the same team, then I would give the second place team in the regular season the spot. I want a regular season that means more. That’s a discussion for another day.

I think I made my case for more mid-majors in the NCAA tournament, and I don’t think it would affect the bottom line in a negative way.