Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Muted!: Episode 1: The NCAA Tournament

The inaugural episode of "Muted!" has finally been compiled. "Muted!" is a round table like exercise among bloggers on a given a topic that is currently relevant. While one can argue whether or not the NCAA Tournament is relevant at this time. The process of compiling the following information began before the tournament's first game even tipped.

(NOTE: I have no idea what the deal is with the font. It will not let me fix it no matter how many times I try to.)

Participating in this first episode are Eric from Sealclubbers, Signal To Noise, Mini Me from WBRS Sports Blog, Marco from Just Call Me Juice, Complete Sports and obviously me from the very place your reading this now. I would like to thank you five for helping out with what was an interesting trial run with this concept.

Without any more rambling I give you "Muted!: Episode 1: The NCAA Tournament:"

Should the field of 65 be expanded?

Eric-SC: Kind of, sort of. I mean, where does it end? If you expand past 64/65 you either have to have a "play-in round" or go all the way to 128 teams and add another round/week to the tournament, and that's just ridiculous.

S2N: No. Making the field bigger isn't going to solve the arguments had every year when the selection committee screws up by letting some seriously undeserved teams get in (Stanford, Arkansas) at the expense of others (Syracuse, Drexel, K-State).

Mini Me:
I agree with S2N. Look at this year's field. The number of teams is ideal in my opinion, but which teams received bids is the problem. And that leads us to a great problem...The fact that the NCAA committee has less than an hour after the final game to come up with the bracket. They should be given at least 3 hours to determine the final field. If given sufficient time, the committee would do a much better job not only in regard to which teams are given bids, but also in regard to seeding , another major problem in this year's tournament.

I completely agree that the field should stay where it is except for maybe expanding to 68. This would create four play-in games. For which I'll share my idea later. Rather than given the committee the extra three hours though Mini Me why not a full day? ALL conference tournaments should end the day before the brackets are announced. This should fix any major seeding issues. As far as who gets those final slots? Human error may be inevitable as any extra time I don't think will sway any one's argument. One thing I wonder is why not let some of those writers in for real? Rather than the mock they did earlier this season why not add a college basketball writer or two to the committee. A rotating panel of course, or even former players?

: I'm against expanding the field. This isn't like the BCS where the 3rd or 4th best team in the country is getting robbed, we are talking about the 66th and 67th teams. If anything, I would expand it to 68 teams, adding 3 play in games on Tuesday. But I'm not much of a fan of that either.

Complete Sports
: On the contrary, I believe the NCAA field should be reduced by one team, back to 64. If we expand any further, we run the risk of making the regular season in major conferences almost irrelevant. With more teams, 5-11 or 6-10 in a major conference might be good enough to make the Tourney, and that's a road that nobody wants to go down. So my plan would be to get rid of the Play-In game, and get back to 64 teams, which just seems like the perfect number for the Tourney.

Should all 65 bids be At-Large? Thus abolishing the auto-bids.

S2N: It's tempting, given the faltering of a lot of favored teams in conference tournaments this year (Xavier, Nevada), making the NCAA pick two teams from conferences that were expected to only send one. However, you lose Cinderella teams this way, and it would turn March Madness into a slightly more legitimate form of the BCS, and most of us hate college football's convoluted bowl system to begin with.

I say that each conference hosts a tournament, with the regular season champ of that tournament "hosting" and being that tournament's top seed. Then a selection committee (who will still be scrutinized) decides seeds and every other team would be shipped out to these tournaments. So the last place team in the worst conference would be the worst seed in the tournament hosted by the top team in the best conference. It would be complicated as hell, but might actually reduce the number of games played and every single team does have a chance... no one is left out in the cold. Some teams will get screwed by placements, but there is no Syracuse style controversy.

Then of course the winners from these tournaments go into the final brackets. Its way more complicated, but with the kind of money that gets thrown around this time of year on commercials, broadcast rights and tickets, I think that they can manage. Also, it helps everyone, including the small conferences who many times do not really deserve to be playing in the tournament just because they won their rec-league of a conference. Think about the boost in attendance at some small conference tourney where Duke would have ended up. I think it would really spread the wealth and expose fans to teams they would have never dreamed of seeing live.

Complete Sports:
No, I love the format the way it is. One of the best parts of college basketball is the low-major conference tournaments, where it is literally win or go home. By abolishing the auto-bids you lose that type of magic and excitement. There are some problems with this format, in that a 'non-deserving' team can make the field, but that's the beauty of college basketball and the beauty of these conference tournaments... no matter what you've done, you have a chance as long as you can keep winning at the end. That's the beauty of college basketball.

No way that should happen. Having schools from smaller conferences make the tournament is what makes March Madness great. I would rather see the tournament somehow expand to involves every team in college basketball than to 65 at-large bids. All at-large bids would ruin what makes March Madness so special.

Rather than make all 65 bids at-large why not give the auto-bids to the regular season champions? Because I think upsets would actually increase if the better, more consistent team always got into the dance. I, for one, do not enjoy watching the schools who steal bids get destroyed by high seeds after making such great runs to sneak into the dance in the first place. This idea would also make the regular season relevant for those small conferences who do not allow the regular season champion to host the conference tournament. As winning the regular season title in many leagues gets you nothing. If this idea isn't an option then I'd surely say no. We get enough Jay Bilas bashing small schools as it is now. I can't even imagine all the small school bashing that would go on if every bid was at-large. Not to mention the NCAA Tournament would become nothing more than a showcase for the major conferences. Which would ruin the tournament overall and I think actually put pressure on the few small schools who do get in. As they'd feel like they have to win for the sake of their fellow small schools who were snubbed.

Mini Me:
If the NCAA tournament implemented an all at-large policy, how would the tournament be different? Well, the majority, if not all of the typical 13, 14, 15 and 16 seed teams would be replaced with most of the NIT field. What would be the result? I think we would have more competitive first round games, but involving mostly teams from major conferences, thus less mid-majors and small conference teams. Because of this we would lose the entire concept of the Cinderella team. Without the potential for upsets by unfamiliar teams the tournament would lose a great deal of intrigue and become not that indistinguishable from other sports tournaments. Thus, I believe it is in the best interest of the NCAA to keep the format which they currently use. Also, I highly recommend allowing Gus Johnson to call Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games, rather than James Brown.

Should the play-in game be eliminated all together?

Mini Me: NO! Do not eliminate this game. And that adamant answer has nothing to
do with the game itself. Hell, I don't even watch it. But with this game, the NCAA can add one more bubble team to the field. In a time when more mid-majors are emerging and major conferences are becoming even deeper in quality, it gives the NCAA a chance to add one more
quality team into the field.

If anything I would suggest creating 4 play-in games and moving them to the 12 seed qualifiers. This would put 8 bubble teams against one another for the opportunity to get into the field. The biggest problem with the game is the fact that two AUTOMATIC bid winners play one another. Since it's the "play-in" (the "opening round" tag line is bullshit) game, that nullifies the fact that these teams had already been guaranteed a spot in the field. In using bubble teams your pitting "at-large" contenders against one another. This idea could even potentially help the committee avoid a little scrutiny. If they had used this idea this past season the games would have likely included Drexel, Syracuse, Kansas State and West Virgina. Say Drexel and West Virginia knock out Old Dominion and Illinois and arguably strengthen the field. This Tuesday T.V. numbers for a quadruple header would without a doubt increase as well. In the end everyone is happy with this small field expansion.

If they don't do what I suggested above, I say that all the smaller conferences should have to play in to get in no matter what, and they would have to play these games immediately after their tournaments end. This cuts the automatic bids nearly in half and would dramatically increase the quality of competition in the first round of play.

Yes. There's no emotional investment in watching a team win that we all know is going to lose the next game, but both FAMU and Niagara won conferences recognized by the NCAA, I believe. Make at larges play for that game if you're going to keep it. Not to keep beating on every one's favorite whipping boy, but make Duke play for their spot.

Complete Sports:
Yes, I do think the Play-In Game should be eliminated. I understand the positive effect of getting an extra at-large team into the field, but I just think about the teams involved. Think about the team that wins their conference tournament (thus earning the right to play in the Tournament), but then loses the play-in game. Technically, they were in the Tournament. But is it really going to feel like it to the players? If I were in charge, I would get rid of the Play-In Game and drop the field back down to 64 teams.

Yes, they should either eliminate the game all together or have of a four game play-in. Just sending two teams off to Dayton for one game isn't fair to those two teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Either expand it or eliminate it.

Does the CBS exclusivity hurt/ruin the tournament coverage?

I actually really enjoy the CBS coverage of the NCAA Tournament. I grew up watching the tournament on CBS and it wouldn't feel right on another network like ESPN (just like the NBA doesn't feel right on ABC instead of NBC). My only complaint is the speed at which they switch to interesting/close games.

Complete Sports:
I don't know that it necessarily hurts the Tournament, though it does give
them less incentive to try really hard. For the most part, people will watch no matter what. So CBS can do things like go to long commercial breaks after every stoppage of action no matter what the moment is (like a 30 second timeout late in the game). Since you can only find the games on CBS, there doesn't seem to be a real interest sometimes in making it as compelling as possible so viewers will stick with it, because they don't have any other options if they want to watch. But that said, I don't have too many complaints about the Tourney broadcasting, so no, I don't think the exclusivity hurts it too much.

CBS' exclusivity is only annoying or problematic if you're live-blogging a game or really want to pick the game you watch. The Eye is very sensitive to the viewer Mercy Rule, switching games when teams are getting destroyed or other games are in closer, more crucial situations, which is good. Sometimes they can be itchy with the trigger finger, moving away from GT-UNLV after the Rebs opened up a lead only to have the Yellow Jackets make a comeback while they were away. The MMOD service probably wouldn't be available if CBS and say, ESPN were splitting rights. Besides, we hear enough of Vitale and some of the other more annoying ESPN analysts during the regular season.

I don't think it huts it per se, especially since that is how I have always remembered it... but then again if ABC/ESPN combo'd that shit fans would be much happier with an increased number of games to choose from. If I get to dream, I would dream that the NCAA would sell one region each to the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) and then CBS could get the Final Four exclusives. Again, its all about maximizing the number of games on TV from a fan's perspective, and from the NCAA's perspective, more games on TV means more money and ads.

Mini Me:
Well we know that the NCAA loves CBS exclusivity. It is that exclusivity that has made them a boat load of money (none of which go to the players, but that is a different topic for a different day). I enjoy CBS' coverage of the event. They do a good job switching between games, and if you don't enjoy the game you are currently watching you can always watch the games online. So, in summary I don't have a problem with CBS' monopoly of NCAA games. If they did a poor job covering them, then I would certainly feel different though.

Overall the CBS coverage is actually pretty good. I really dislike the the studio team but because I don't see them too much it's not that bad. I think CBS needs to get a better handle on when to switch from one game to the other, however. I was literally yelling at my TV watching the Duke-VCU score as Michigan State pounded on Marquette. They didn't switch until Marquette-MSU got under a minute. This is probably because I live in Michigan but that's no excuse. A blow out isn't any fun to watch regardless of who your rooting for. I'd love to see Fox or NBC pick up half the games. Even more games would be on TV, and as Eric said CBS could keep the Final Four exclusivity.

How do you think the NBA's age rule has and will effect the tournament in the future?

Complete Sports: I think it's had a large effect for fairly obvious reasons... many freshman
that may have entered the draft will be in college for at least 1 year. This improves the quality of play, which is obviously good. Just looking at this year, the results are large. Without Greg Oden, OSU wouldn't have made the Championship. Kevin Durant was one of the stories of the year. Brandan Wright was one of the top players for North Carolina. There's a good chance
none of these guys would have been in college without that rule. Looking ahead, I see more of the same. Guys like OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, and Michael Beasley all might have gone straight to the NBA... instead, they'll be on college campuses next fall. Having talents like this is great for the college game.

I'm not a huge fan of Bob Knight as a person, but I won't debate his emphasis on graduation rates and avid interest in making sure his players are also hitting the books. I would ditch the age rule and then adopt his suggestion that anyone who accepts a college scholarship to play ball has to fulfill a number of credit hours of semester in order to even be eligible to play on the team, and if you go play college ball, no leaving until after your sophomore year.

The rule as it stands is a half-hearted solution that doesn't address the bigger issue at all. It gives the NBA some cover, but does nothing for college basketball or athletics in general. If I ran the NCAA, I'd either push the NBA to get rid of the rule altogether or make it tougher, NFL-style.

Well, it definitely upped the level of competition, because you look right now at Ohio State and Texas and wonder where they would be if the age rule had not been modified. But the biggest impact on the level of competition is not just the studs, its those guys who would have gone undrafted and fallen off the face of the Earth. More quality players all trying to get in, get off, get out and get to the NBA means that every team from Duke to Old Dominion has a chance to land a stud recruit who wants one year of exposure and then jet to the NBA. With only one year required, I think a lot of recruits are not going to necessarily go to the best team, they might go to the team who will let them on the court immediately and let them shine. I think that by making it only one year, we are going to see a lot more small schools land recruits way out of their league because they are assured PT right away.

Mini Me:
Because of the NBA age rule, expect in the future to see very similar match-ups to the Ohio State v. Florida game. A running theme in college basketball will be the young, talented, freshman led team vs the experienced, team-oriented team. Sometimes the experienced team will prevail (Florida) and sometimes the Phenom Freshman led team (Syracuse) will win. No matter who wins titles, the bottom-line is that having more super-talented freshmen in college basketball will result in an increased quality of basketball.

The rule as far as I'm concerned is a joke. While the level of competition was certainly up this past season it means nothing when these guys leave for the NBA. It hurts CBB as a whole when these schools basically rent these guys for one year. As the teams have to immediately rebuild rather than waiting at least 2-3 years. If anything the rule should be 2 years to protect the schools who are willing to take these guys on and give them a place to showcase themselves for the NBA. I agree completely with Mini Me, championship games of the future will put experience against young, raw talent time and again. Is this a good? Maybe. The games will be good but it's the players themselves as well as the schools who take them that will suffer in the long run. A guy who goes to school for one year is no different than a guy coming strait out of high school as far as I'm concerned. The one year rule is nothing but a quick fix for the NBA. Where they cash in even more, as those who have big years like Kevin Durant did become instant marketing giants. While the Kobe Bryant's, Tracy McGrady's and KG's took a few years to become the players everyone thought they were. The only good thing about the rule is it prevents those who are not ready from entering the draft. But does anyone actually think those guys won't hit the draft the next season anyway? I don't.

I think that the NBA age rule will have a positive effect on the NCAA Tournament in the future. Just look at the quality players who we may not have seen had it not been for the age rule: Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Brenden Wright and Mike Conley Jr. There is no doubt that these players have increased the quality of play in college basketball. While some may ague that players constantly leaving after one year to go to the NBA will hurt team chemistry, it's not like players have just started jumping ship after one season since this rule.

As you can see we generally agreed on all of the questions. Whether or not any of our thoughts and opinions come to fruition remains to be seen., But on a couple of the topics we can only hope.
This turned into much more of a question and answer session than a back a forth argument style I was looking for. Mostly due to some bad planning by your truly. I have a few new ideas for this moving forward to create more debating on each question. The trial run for "Muted!" was overall a success however. Thanks again to all of those who took the time to partcipate your assistance was and is greatly appreciated.

If you have a blog, and would like to be part of any future episodes of "Muted!" or have any ideas for future topics you'd like a panel to take on. Leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail at sportsshowonmute(at)gmail(dot)com. The next topic and panel is currently undecided at this time. I'm also unsure of how regular this feature will be.


Signal to Noise said...

I'll be happy to do it again. Thanks for including me.

twins15 said...

Good stuff... and yeah, thanks for including me. It was fun.

Marco said...

Nice job, include me on the next one

BD said...

I'll definitely be including you guys on the next one. Which should be rolling within the next day or two.

point 23 said...

Should the field of 65 be expanded?

Depends on how you answer one question: are deserving teams being left out? Right now, less than 20% of eligible teams get invited to The Dance, so it seems like pretty exclusive company. But has one of "the last four in" ever threatened to win a Nat'l title, let alone won one? Not to my knowledge. If you can't compete for a title, should you really be in the post season? I mean, compare it to college football (a two team playoff!) and it isn't even a question.

Jim Boehiem gets all riled up, saying we only keep it this way "because it fits in a nice little box." Well, Jim...yea. Its perfect. Just leave it alone.

Should all 65 bids be At-Large? Thus abolishing the auto-bids.

No way. You think the mid-majors are getting screwed now, just take away that guaranteed spot in the field of 65 and see what happens.

What they should do is award the regular season champ the auto bid. How do you prove a team is better? Over months of home and away competition? Or in a three-day, small sample size, single elimination tourney? The regular season champ is better. This ensures that the best team reps its conference, which means more competitive games on the dance.

I can see why the BCS conferences would have a post season tourney, but it blows my mind that a mid-major conference would sacrifice its best chance to make a name for itself in the dance for a one-time payday from ESPN during championship week. Blows my mind.

This theory would admittedly ruin Championship Week, and Championship Week is fun while its on, but do you really remember it right now? Not really. I sure as hell remember Eric Maynor knocking off Duke or Winthrop advancing to the round of 32.

Should the play-in game be eliminated all together?

Either eliminate it altogether or add three more, for a total of four, and make the "last 8 in" battle for 12 seeds. I'd love to see how the BCS schools react to the "hey, you're in the tournament, too!" bullshit they feed the Play In Game participants every year.

And if they are going to keep having the play-in game, make CBS carry the thing in prime time. It is their fault the monstrosity exists in the first place; let them deal with a .02 rating a Tuesday night.

Does the CBS exclusivity hurt/ruin the tournament coverage?

Yea, it does. I mean, there is a reason monopolies are illegal, right? Why can't two or four channels each buy a respective region - like how different networks own the rights to the NFC and the AFC, or the NL and the AL?

CBS does a lousy job, in my opinion, of showing the best game available. You get stuck with games "in your region" that you really don't care about. And say I'd rather watch UNC trounce its first round opponent instead of the 5/12 thriller? Stupid as it is, shouldn't I be able to?

MMOD helps, but it was pretty unreliable this year, and picture quality is just better on TV, anyways.

CBS, ESPN, EPSN2 and TNT each get a region: How would that not be better?

How do you think the NBA's age rule has and will effect the tournament in the future?

It jacks its popularity through the roof. Better players equal a better product. Yea, the academics is kind of a shame, but really, if a kid has his heart set on not doing any school work, he can find a place that will accommodate that, regardless of the rule.

Plus, it keeps interest in college hoops long after the season was over. I was living and dying with Brandan Wright's decision; I was on college hoop and draft sites for weeks, souring for news. Now, without realizing it, I am more aware of what next season has in store, incoming freshman, etc and will look forward to seeing them.

Now, is Texas better of having Durant for one year, losing in the second round, and maybe stunting the development of some lesser players? Maybe. But when five star recruits see what Texas did for Kevin Durant, won't they be more inclined to sign there? I think the rule helps programs both in the short and in the long run.

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