Thursday, March 29, 2007

Flavor of tourney most important

Amidst all of the national media coverage that kneels down and worships the beauty of March Madness, several rotten apples have emerged in utter protest of the NCAA tournament. In his syndicated column from the Sporting News, writer Matt Hayes posits that the NCAA tournament is in fact much worse than the oft-maligned BCS system of Division I college football.

Hayes argues that the NCAA tournament's format of a 65 team playoff with conference champions from the smaller leagues demeans the national championship process and renders the "accomplishments" of teams like Long Beach State that much more significant than those of Syracuse.

The inclusion of teams like Davidson, Winthrop and VCU make legitimate national title contenders like Maryland, Duke and Texas run a gauntlet of teams with one-shot chances at glory, he argues. If VCU or Davidson deserved to be playing for a national championship, then they should have competed in the regular season. Davidson's 0-RPI top 100 did not sit well with Mr. Hayes.

I take issue with this article not merely because the writer tried to take down our beloved Davidson Wildcats (although that's what led me to find it; thanks Google News), but because the author eventually asserted a moral argument for the need for authenticity in crowning a national champion.

Boise State and George Mason were one-hit wonders that spoiled the party in football and basketball, respectively. The NCAA tournament's fascination with the underdog and its continual talk of expansion is merely a power play to make more money. With this affirmation, Hayes essentially implies that our national sports culture should be ashamed of unknowingly beefing up the pockets of the entertainment side of the sports industry. We should all be ashamed for not seeing that pulling for the underdog means more money for CBS.

I would like to preface my rebuttal of Mr. Hayes by saying that I love sports. My friends know that I check at an addictive rate and devote way too many hours each week to watching games. However, within all of that madness, I still believe that high-level college and professional sports are entertainment. As fans, winning is everything for us. But, as I can tell you, winning doesn't mean anything if you don't have fun and aren't entertained.

The NCAA tournament is not set up to bring the nation's best teams together in a national championship playoff. Not all of the nation's top 65 teams get a shot at a national title, yet usually the best team wins. This year's Final Four is a collection of four teams that were all in the nation's top 10 for at least four weeks this season. UCLA, Florida and Ohio State were almost always among the top five or six in the country. The inclusion of Davidson in the NCAA tournament has not prevented the best teams from competing for a national title.

In fact, there have been so few massive tournament-crashing parties by Cinderellas that one would wonder why such a big deal is made of their first-round victories. So, if the tournament usually works the way that it is supposed to, why does Hayes claim that it is so "awkward?"

The NCAA tournament entertains me. In fact, the NCAA tournament entertains a large portion of this country. I am not ashamed to admit that I support a process that is not mathematically straightforward and that rewards the instant miracle over the proven winner. Besides, a few miracles are sometimes necessary before a team can become a proven dynasty. Who am I to belittle the current recruiting power of a Gonzaga program that just happened to shock the world a few too many times?

Maybe I am a fan of the underdog. Maybe I let my emotions dictate my opinions. Maybe I committed the cardinal sin of actually being entertained by watching sports. At the end of this month, we should enjoy having been entertained a little more and worry a little bit less about which school gets the big banner in their massive gym.

I can promise you that Oklahoma football will recover after Boise State's miracle in the Fiesta Bowl. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse will still find top-notch recruits despite giving up their spot in this year's NCAA tournament to Central Connecticut State. We all want a fair system to decide who wins the national championship, but there is no harm in letting a small town like Davidson go nuts for a few days a year. I'm sure Mr. Hayes could concede that.

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