As part of the spirited commentary we’ve had this week on the playoffs/BCS debate, it was suggested that rather than looking at the 1-AA football playoffs for insight, I would do better to look to March Madness for a playoff template.
So let’s do that. This Wall Street Journal article is chock full of goodness. The title, “Why March Madness Needs 96 Teams”, ought to tip you off to what you’re about to read. Here’s why it needs to expand:
Coaches’ welfare. Jim Boeheim has been a shameless whore for expanding the tournament for a long as I can remember, so his quote that “It’s an easy decision” comes as no surprise. It’s a way for more mediocre head coaches to justify their existence – because their teams made the NCAA playoffs. The best part is that with this concern in mind, there’s no reason to stop at 96. Just ask Baylor coach Scott Drew.
“I think we should expand even more,” says Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team narrowly missed out on the NCAA tournament last season and lost to Penn State in the final of the consolation National Invitation Tournament. “Go up to 128. I’ve thought that for several years. There’s that many good teams, and it gives everybody one more game.
“To everyone who says, ‘What about a missed class?’—trust me, those players would trade a day of class for a chance to play in this tournament any day,” Mr. Drew says.
Do it for the coach, kids!
The bullshit excuses. These are from the people who don’t want to admit what the real reason for considering expansion is. So you get silly comments from conference commissioners like this:
“I’m a proponent of the tournament expanding,” says Bernadette McGlade, commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference. “There’s so much parity in the game today, it’s become necessary.”
In other words, we’ve watered the game down so much that we need to water it down even more.
Then there’s this convoluted line of reasoning.
“The early rounds are the riveting part of the tournament,” says Doug Elgin, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. “If we had an expansion, it would deepen the tournament in the middle. You’re going to see much more balance and maybe more upsets in these first and second round games.”
Translation: getting more mediocre teams in the tournament can only be a good thing for mid-major conferences.
Top it off by tossing in a little Enron-styled accounting.
While many of the newest teams in Division I aren’t exactly championship-caliber, the fact remains that this sport, compared to others, is relatively stingy with postseason play. More than half of all major college-football programs get to extend the season by going to a bowl game… Then there’s the men’s NCAA college basketball tournament’s figure—19.5%. “That’s among the perspectives that we’ve heard,” says NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen.
Mr. Shaheen must not be aware of the difference between apples and oranges, if he seriously considers that argument. Or he’s totally shameless. Because college basketball has its own versions of bowls; they’re called the NIT and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. (I don’t suppose any of you folks who bitch about the antitrust implications of the BCS care about that in this context. Of course, since the NCAA owns the NIT outright, it probably doesn’t matter much anyway.)
The money. Like you didn’t know we were gonna end up here. Here’s the real meat of the deal:
The NCAA has the right to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS at the end of this season, which is the impetus for considering to expand the tournament and perhaps move it to cable. “We have an opt-out provision at the end of this contract year, so we’re simply doing due diligence on all aspects of that contract,” Mr. Shaheen says.
An ESPN spokesman said that if the tournament became available to the cable provider, “we would be interested if it made good business sense.” A CBS spokeswoman declined to comment.
TV experts say that the value in expanding the tournament is mainly in the ability to sell it to more than one network. “They could legitimately bring in two networks, saying it’s too much for one network,” says Rick Gentile, a former executive producer at CBS Sports. “I personally wouldn’t like to see it. There is an issue of diluting it. But if you get two networks involved, they’ll both pay a premium to be a part of it.”
For the smaller schools and conferences, the revenue the tournament can generate for schools is no minor issue—especially as some schools drop expensive sports like football. “It’s not about the rich getting richer,” says Mr. Elgin of the Missouri Valley Conference. “It’s about staying afloat and not dropping baseball programs and wrestling programs.”
There’s the scary part. What they’re telling us is that they’ve maxed out the revenue stream from college basketball. There are no regular season TV deals for basketball coming like SEC football just obtained. And CBS won’t pay anymore for the tournament broadcast rights than it’s already committed. All that’s left is new product to peddle to another network to raise additional revenue. If it means a further dilution of the quality of the product, that’s life.
Of course, we would get bigger brackets to fill out, so we’ve got that going for us as fans.
No doubt my post will generate a series of comments about how none of this is applicable to college football (never mind that it involves the same frickin’ set of decision makers), because there’s something unique about college football that renders it immune from this problem. Which is my point exactly – when you start down the extended playoff road, you rob the sport of that uniqueness. Immunity becomes a moot point.