The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 19, 2014

Column: Time to tweak the madness

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

Random thoughts as March madness ramps up in earnest today.

The NCAA tournament’s so-called “first-round” games are a bit perplexing. A few years back, the NCAA expanded the tournament to 68 teams for reasons that remain specious at best. Few people were clamoring to increase the field from 64 to 68 teams and it’s pretty clear the NCAA made the decision to add another tier of games for one simple reason: additional revenue (you know, more TV revenue, advertising bucks and attendance dollars). Never mind the fact it made a mess of the very workable 64-team bracket.

The NCAA initially told us it would allow another four teams to play their way in who may have been otherwise slighted. Initially these were called “play-in” games. But, that didn’t set well with those teams and the NCAA decided they would designate those as first round games. But, here is where they really went off the rails.

Instead of having potentially the 15 and 16 seeds in each of the four regions play-in, they have extended the first round games to include games between the 11 seeds and between the 12 seeds in two of the regions in addition to the 16 seeds playing each other in two other regions. (All played in Dayton, Ohio.) So, this raises a simple question: How is it the designated 11 and 12 seeds have to play an extra game in their regions when lower seeds in those regions do not? Again, the answer is pretty simple: TV.

Which game would you rather watch? Sixteen seeds Albany and Mt. St. Mary’s battling it out, or 11 seeds Iowa and Tennessee?  

As with everything NCAA, it makes little sense if you throw out the money angle. The first round games are a silly idea and need to be scrapped. Go back to the regular 64-team bracket and move on.

• Do power conferences really need to hold postseason tournaments? The only benefit to the power conferences holding postseason tournaments seems to be revenue. Regardless of the outcome, those conferences are going to get their standard 6-8 teams in the tournament and it rarely affects the seeding. Need proof? UCLA defeated Arizona in the PAC-12 conference tournament and it had no impact as Arizona still was awarded a No. 1 seed.

The power conferences’ tournaments are anti-climactic with little on the line in the end as opposed to the other conferences whose tournament champion is usually the only team from the conference invited to the dance, magnifying the real importance and the true emotion of their tournaments.

• Ex-Jet goes dancing. Former Northern Oklahoma College Enid standout Connor Brooks now plays for Stephen F. Austin (31-2), which won the Southland Conference to earn a berth in this year’s tournament. Brooks, who earned first team All-Region honors as a sophomore at NOC Enid by averaging 13.1 points per game, averaged 10.6 minutes coming off the bench this season for the Lumberjacks and 2.8 points. No. 12-seed SFA has a tough first-round draw against mid-major powerhouse No. 5-seed Virginia Commonwealth on Friday in San Diego.

• A Shocking finale? Don’t know if they will do it, but it’s hard to not pull for undefeated Wichita State (34-0) to run the table and win. What a great story the Shockers have been and it would be a nice little poke in the nose at the power conferences and media types who have dismissed their accomplishments this season.

OK, now let’s tip it off!



Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com