Michael Elkon asks a question that I’ve asked in one form or fashion many times:
How exactly does one sell the four-month college basketball regular season when the Final Four is comprised of: (1) the second-place team in the SEC East that went 2-6 on the road in KenPom’s sixth-placed conference; (2) the ninth-place team in the Big East that lost seven of its last 11 games (so much for that theory that you can watch games in February and figure out which teams are peaking); (3) a team that was at one point 6-5 in the Horizon League; and (4) the fourth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association that finished on a four-game losing streak in that mighty conference?
The answer is that the best sale you can make is that it’s a delivery system for a postseason that many people are crazy about. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m beginning to think that it’s an appropriate arrangement for a sport that for a number of reasons enjoys a far greater degree of parity than others.
That’s why Elkon is right to reject March Madness as a template for college football. There’s no one-and-done rule in football. Football is a game where depth separates quality teams far more than it does in basketball. The level of competitive balance between the two sports simply isn’t comparable.
If you want irony, check out this explanation for the rise of mid-majors in the basketball tourney:
… Mid-major teams are used to playing with one-and-done pressure as early as January and February, understanding that a stumble can kill their at-large tournament hope. If a Big East team has a major slump — like, say, Villanova — they know they’ll still make the tournament regardless.
“I think VCU and Butler played with a lot of pressure in January and February,” Stevens said.
“When you get into the tournament, that pressure may flip a little bit. We’re playing loose. We’re playing for the first time, in a lot of ways, in a couple months where you’ve already been playing, basically where you feel like you can’t lose. So you’re already used to that. The NCAA Tournament is a welcome.”
That’s the college football regular season experience, isn’t it? Except it’s not just mid-major schools which face that pressure; it’s every single one from the SEC on down.