Another year of March Madness, that glorious season of college basketball, is upon us. And with it comes, of course, controversy over the selection committee. Syracuse and Oklahoma are playing in the tournament over the likes of Middle Tennessee State, St Mary's, and USC. Now I don't want to debate if those two should be there (they shouldn't) but on what the NCAA could do to make sure only the best of the best are playing in March Madness through the elimination of the selection committee and the utilization of a UEFA Champions League style entry format.
For those who don't know, the UEFA Champions League is almost like the March Madness of European soccer. Each league has the chance to send it's best teams to the competition. Some leagues get only one entrant, others, like the Premier League and La Liga, get four. Now, what does this have to do with March Madness?
The NCAA could do the same thing. The top four conferences, as ranked by ESPN for this past year, were the Big 12, ACC, Big East, and Big 10. What if only the top four teams from those leagues got in? Then the next four ranked leagues, the SEC, American, Pac 12 and Mountain West, send their top three? Then everyone else with ten or more teams in their league sends their top two, and the eight conferences that don't, send their champions to the First Four play in games?
Here's what the field of 68 would look like this year using that system. All teams are listed based on conference standings, not overall record.
Conference's with fewer than ten teams get only one entrant. That's leaves eight conferences sending eight champions to the four play in games. Those leagues and conferences are:
Vermont, American East; FGCU, Atlantic Sun; UC Davis, Big West; Harvard, Ivy League; Bucknell, Patriot League; South Dakota State, Summit League; Grambling State, SWAC; and New Mexico State, WAC.
Some might accuse me of creating a structure that gives more opportunity to mid majors. While that is correct, doing things this way also means some teams I cheer for, like Louisville and Penn State, would stand no chance of making it this year if this were the system. And since doing this would eliminate the need to have conference tournaments, March Madness is now all but guaranteed to have only the best teams playing for the right to be called champion.
Some people might not be aware of this, but there's another professional basketball league in the United States and Canada. The North American Premier Basketball League started play recently, fielding 8 teams in season one. The Kentucky Thoroughbreds, Ohio Cardinals, Kansas City Tornadoes, Albany (NY) Patroons, Rochester Razorsharks, Nevada Desert Dogs, Yakima Sun Kings, and Vancouver Knights.
What makes this league interesting to me isn't just providing players with another platform to prove themselves NBA worthy, but the opportunity for cities that haven't had, used to have, or will never have, a professional basketball team to call their own a chance to have just that.
Notice anything on that list of teams? Vancouver used to have an NBA team. Kansas City is one of those zombie expansion cities that always pops up, (And used to have a team) Kentucky loves the sport everywhere, and used to have a successful ABA team.
And we haven't even talked about their upcoming expansion cities: Tampa Bay, Raleigh, Bellevue, WA and San Diego. The NBA is never going to Tampa Bay, doesn't seem interested in San Diego, and the Seattle area has been dying for a team since the Sonics moved. And Raleigh is a huge city that won't ever be in the NBA thanks to the Charlotte Hornets.
The NAPB is a unique position to provide decent quality, affordable basketball games to fans in cities with no hope of the NBA, like Albuquerque, NM or Omaha, NE. And they're building the league with a smart plan, adding teams close to each other to keep travel costs low. Won't be at all surprised to find out that St Louis and Omaha will be adding teams to the league. And these teams are different from the G League. They won't be Austin Spurs or somebodies little brother.
These are independent teams, locally owned and operated. It's the difference between Triple A baseball and independent teams. Players move around, yeah, but nowhere nears as much. And with these teams being completely locally owned, with no help from a big brother NBA team, these teams will have to go above and beyond to connect their teams and players with fans and sponsors.
The future is looking bright for basketball here. I, for one, am excited to see what the NAPB can bring to court to make basketball even better.
Recently the NBA has started looking into improving the Playoffs. If you follow the NBA, you know what's being discussed. If you don't, here's your recap. The NBA is considering creating a 'Playoff Tournament' (Think First Four in March Madness) where the 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds play each other in single elimination games for the last two spots in the Playoffs.
Not a terrible idea, as increasing the number of spots should, in theory, create more teams trying to win each year because of the increased chances of a playoff spot. Never mind the fact that this means 20 of your 30 teams have shot at a title, which is really high and rewards a lot of teams for mediocrity, but I digress.
I like the idea of these play in games. It's done wonders for baseball, as the Wild Card games have been rowdy, raucous affairs. But the NBA is losing the forest through the trees. The real issue with the NBA Playoffs is that they are way, way too long.
Every playoff series in the NBA is best of 7. So is hockey. You know what they have in common? They take to long! MLB is best of 5, then best of 7 the rest of the way. Still takes a long time, but it's crisper, and shorter.
With 8 teams in the playoffs regardless, the NBA should switch things up a bit to create more excitement. Have your 'First Four,' but then make the first round Best of 3. Force the top teams to really show up in Round 1, and create room for crazy, excitement producing upsets. Round 2 is best of 5, and the Conference Finals and the Finals themselves are your Best of 7. That shaves off 6 potential games, almost an entire playoff series, while allowing more room for upsets and smaller market teams to make deep runs.
Part of what makes March Madness so exciting is the upsets. Due to the length of the playoff series, that doesn't happen often in the NBA. Shortening the series at the beginning won't give the top teams room to coast, and gives the lower seeded teams a real chance.
And now, for fun, here's what your current 'First Four' match-ups would look like if they happened this season.
What do you think? Would this work? Something you'd do differently? How else could the NBA generate excitement for the playoffs and more of it's teams? Let me know in the comments!
I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the 'Power 5' dominating college sports. You know who I'm talking about. The Pac 12, the Big 12*, the Big 10*, the SEC, and the ACC. These guys run college sports, and if they have their way, they'll run it even more moving forward. There's only way to bust up this hegemony, and that's to push your way to the table.
This is where the Mountain West Conference comes in. Widely regarded as one of, if not the best, conference outside of the Power 5, it's time for the MWC to flex it's muscle and make the Big 12 scoot over at the table.
How is that ever going to happen, you ask? Easy. Really, really easy. So easy it's scary, actually. Let's start with basketball.
Currently, the MWC is home to the basketball programs for Nevada, Boise St, Wyoming, Utah State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado St, San Diego St, Fresno St, Air Force and San Jose St. Not bad, not great, but decent enough. This year, it's been pretty obvious that two teams are getting shafted in the Top 25 rankings: Gonzaga and St Mary's. What if the MWC added them as affiliate members for basketball? That's a win for everyone, and immediately puts the other conferences on notice.
But we aren't done yet, because the MWC is adding two programs that are bringing their football teams, too. New Mexico State, who are currently looking for a new conference, and North Dakota State. NMS gives you a rivalry in New Mexico and a strong basketball program, while NDS is the king of the College Football Subdivision, strengthening you on the football side.
Now you've gone from 11 to 15 teams in basketball, and 14 in football. Hawaii is a football only member of the MWC. To keep things even, the Mountain West could now add other strong FCS programs that can help with both sports programs, like Montana, Northern Arizona, or South Dakota St, and another basketball only member, like Grand Canyon University.
In my ideal future, the Mountain West Conference looks like this in basketball and football.
That's a pretty strong looking conference to me, definitely stronger than the Big 12! And it would be the first large conference to reach 16 members in football, which is a big step up.
What do you think? Too much, not enough? Would the MWC be better off doing some of this and rather than taking more FCS programs try and pull away some of the smaller Big 12 programs, like Kansas and Kansas St? Let me know in the comments!
*The Big 12 - currently has 10 members.
*The Big 10 - currently has 14 members.
One week after publishing this article, reports surfaced that Gonzaga and the MWC are talking.