In the coming weeks if you are a sports fan you will hear terms like best time of year, Cinderella, upset city, and champion but I am here to tell you that all those terms especially the last one have little to no meaning when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. That is right, you have been fed a multitude of lies, and the most amazing thing is that you have accepted these lies to the point where they are so engrained in our culture that they are now seen as truth, and are no longer questioned. Much like the DeBeers Diamond marketing campaign, now every man has accepted the fact that he must buy the one he loves a diamond engagement ring. It is no longer questioned, it has become engrained in our culture and accepted as the norm. The NCAA has fed us this same level of propaganda and the NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest fallacies in the history of sports. Here’s why.
To start I have to say that I am a big college basketball fan, and sports fan in general, but there are quite a few fallacies that are at play when it comes to big time college sports. So let me make the distinction by what I mean by “big time.” To me there is a very large difference between the level a low-major (my term to describe those conferences that no one cares about, Patriot, American, Big Sky, Big South etc.), mid-major, and blue blood programs like (UK, Duke, UNC, Kansas). Those 4 programs are massive in every aspect when it comes to basketball. Any time anyone mentions basketball it is these programs that move the needle. If something is happening at these programs it is what leads all the sports talk shows, and they are what drive the sport. Keep in mind that I am only talking about basketball, but the point can be extrapolated to included football with programs such as Alabama, OSU, LSU, and Michigan, but that is an argument for another day.
The first fallacy is that big time programs compete on the same level as mid-major programs or those in even lesser known leagues. FALSE! If you mean that they roll the balls out and at the start of the game its 0-0, then yes, they compete at the same level. If you say yes and truly mean it, please explain to me how that is possible? To me the answer is no, a resounding NO. Let’s take a look at this for a second. At big time programs players are very good, that is why they are big time programs. They get the best players in the country and send a lot of those players to the NBA and win many games and championships. So at a mid-major what happens there? They win some games but have very limited success in the NCAA Tournament, and have no championships in the last probably 40 plus years of the tournament, and send very few if any players to the NBA. That is the main fallacy in college basketball. These little programs kill themselves to make the tournament for the payday, about $280K or so, nothing more nothing less. They kill themselves to get there and then take a whopping that is nationally televised, how exciting (there is some sarcasm in that last sentence).
They need this money to help sustain their athletic programs, and in most cases, these appearances keep their athletic programs funded. Every now and then a mid-major will make a run, which is nice, but at the end of the day one championship from this bunch in 40 plus years speaks for itself. So why does America go crazy to see a team like UK, Duke, UNC, and Kansas beat the crap of a North West State Tech University A&M? What does that game prove? That the former teams are better than the latter, well duh! But we go along with that for some reason and don’t have a problem with it. Then North West State Tech University A&M gets a nice pay day and they go home. Good effort guys! There should be two distinct leagues for the mid-major programs and the elite programs. There is no reason what so ever for these teams to play ever, especially when a championship is on the line.
Fallacy number two is the idea that these players are students first then athletes second, hence the name “student athlete.” This one actually makes me laugh, and actually builds on the fallacy that all schools compete on the same level. There is not a chance that the players these big time programs recruit are students first. It is just silly if you actually think that and I feel very sorry for you if you truly believe it. College athletics is a billion dollar business and these top players choose these big schools for the stage to showcase their talents to get to the next level. That is a fact and that is just the way it is, it is also why not big time recruits go to North West State Tech University A&M. The fallacy is that they are students and actually care about getting an education. I will concede that maybe there are a hand full of top players out there that do care about their education, but they are in the minority. Would you care about your education if you knew in a few months you were going to be a multi-millionaire.
Take a look at this scenario. Let’s say that your kid is a top 5 player in next year’s recruiting class. With that accolade comes all sorts of notoriety including NBA scouts talking about your son and how good he is. So along with that comes lots and lots of money. So your son has three schools he is looking at UK, Kansas, and North West State Tech University A&M. At every school he is being offered a free ride for all four years, but there is little to no chance that your son will be in college for four years as he will turn pro. So being a top 5 player why would he choose North West State Tech University A&M, they have inferior facilities, coaches, and play in the No One Cares Conference that is never on TV. The only exposure they get is for their conference tournament which airs on ESPN 8 The Ocho. Basically if he goes to North West State Tech University A&M no one will see him and he could very well be forgotten, also there is little chance that NBA scouts will come to watch him. If your son has any sense he will choose UK or Kansas for all the reasons listed above.
At any big time program he will be able to showcase his talents, win some games, and when the season is over go pro making him rich (hopefully he will share that wealth with you). To think that your son or any elite player’s dream is to get a degree and stay in school is just idiocy! I mean ask yourself if you were 6’10’’ 260 and the number one player in your recruiting class would you care about getting your degree in Communications when you can play college basketball for 6 months and then be a multi-millionaire? The answer is no, no one would, and you would need your head examined if you thought otherwise. Or for those un-athletic type (myself included) what if you got a job offer your freshman year in college of $250K a year. I bet you will probably turn that down to get your degree. HAHA I doubt it.
I know some of you are saying well what happens if they get hurt or it does not work out in the NBA, well then that is certainly a concern. But again you, me, the guy in the back there, would not turn down millions in a few months’ time, to get your degree or for fear of not making an NBA roster or getting injured. What is a bigger travesty is that if a kid comes back to school, turning down the NBA, and gets hurt and loses millions because the kid will drop in the draft. Each spot further from number 1 is less and less money, that is what is truly sad. This happened to Nerlens Noel a few years ago. He was a freshman and tor his ACL. As a one and done player he could have gone 1 instead he went 6th and lost about $6 million, that was a pretty expensive injury wouldn’t you agree. Now, everting is ok as Noel is doing quite well in the NBA. If they get hurt in the NBA it’s sad, but they are making money so it’s not as much of a travesty. Look school is not going anywhere, the NBA isn’t either, but there is only a limited amount of time that most people have an opportunity to play, there is a reason the average age in the NBA is around 30 or so. Again these elite athletes are ATHLETES first, then possibly students in some very vague sense in a distant second.
I don’t like to name names, but look at Joey Bosa from Ohio State University. He was a highly touted recruit from Florida and chose OSU, and I am sure his main focus was being a student first, right, WRONG! Early on in his career at OSU he got into some sort of trouble, I think it was something minor, but right then he realized that in a few years he was going to the NFL and didn’t want to have something stupid derail that dream. He moved off campus and said that he hardly left his apartment, because he knew that one small mistake could cost him millions. Does that sound like a student, does that sound like what goes through a normal student’s head. I doubt it. Now I know this is a football player, but very similar conclusions can be drawn for basketball. And my overall point is that Bosa, who is probably going to be the number 1 pick in the NFL draft, at worst a top 10 pick, does not compete on the same level as some defensive end from North West State Tech University A&M who can only hope to make as much as Bosa will when he signs his contract, over his entire life. I can hear it now, yeah well that one player will have his degree. I would say who cares Bosa is worth $25 million, $25 MILLION. On average a person with a bachelor’s degree throughout their life will only make about $2.27 million. I am not a genius but $25 > $2.27. Even getting drafted in the second round will get you about $4 million. Next argument please!
Fallacy number three is that the NCAA Tournament is fair. This one is almost backwards, I will explain what I mean. First the tournament is actually fair, in fact, in theory, it is a super fair way to determine a champion, meaning technically everyone has to win 6 games, or seven if you get the play in game. But for the most part every team, as long as you make the tournament, has the same chance to win the game, I am not getting into the odds and betting spreads, I am just saying from a games perspective. For that reason it is by far the most fair way to determine a champion. With that being said, I do not think it is ACTUALLY FAIR when you really start to look at it. So let’s dissect this idea. In other sports there is almost always a reward for having an above average season. Meaning that in the NBA and NFL teams with very good regular season records usually make the playoffs, and get a first round bye or will have to play one less game to make the championship. Such is their reward. For the NCAA Tournament that is not the case, there is no reward for having a good season. Last year UK went 34-0, that is 34 wins and 0 losses, winning every regular season game and their conference tournament. Yet there was no reward for having a historic season, they still had to play 6 games to win it all, but they eventually lost in the final four.
Does that really make sense, and is that really fair for teams that have an elite season. For this reason the tournament basically rewards the little guy, mid-majors, more so than it does big time programs. How silly is it that for the regular season you could go winless, 0 -28 or something like that and still make the NCAA Tournament. You would have to win your conference tournament which is about 6 games, so now your record is 6-28, and winning the conference tournament will give you an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Then from there you have the same chance to win the championship. If that happens your final record will be 12-28, which is ridiculous! So explain to me how a team with 6 wins should A, get into the NCAA Tournament, then B, have the same chance as a team that has 34 wins at the end of the regular season to win a championship? That does not make sense and for that reason the NCAA Tournament is so fair, that is actually unfair. There is no reward for having a great or elite regular season, so why have a regular season if those accomplishments are not truly weighed. To an extent they are, as seeding does matter somewhat, but not really as even the number one team in the tournament still has to play the same amount of games as the worst. (I know they have now added the play-in games but I am not counting them.)
There are 32 conferences that have automatic bids, meaning that if you win your conference tournament you get an automatic bid regardless of your record. After looking at them there are 23 conferences that will send teams that I believe have no business being in the tournament what so ever. In particular Holy Cross who has a 14-19 record, that is ridiculous! That is 19 losses folks, 19, yet they have a chance to win the championship. How in the hell is that possible! I mean there is almost no chance that that will happen, but why even give them a chance that they do not deserve. THEY DO NOT DESERVE IT! Since when is America willing to reward this mediocrity, this is not Communist Russia where everyone gets a participation trophy. Those teams do not deserve to play in the tournament and think it is a travesty and near asinine that this is commonplace and that fans see it as the norm.
There are two things that are driving this machine, one is the most obvious, MONEY. This system will never change because of the money that is involved. Which blows my mind that the athletes, the product, makes nothing in this process, but that is a post for another day. Money is what is keeping this ludicrous system in place and not only that, but in a smaller sense the American mindset of wanting to see an upset also keeps ratings high which again makes more money. For some reason, and I am guilty of it as well but now that I am aware of it I consciously stop doing it, Americans want to see the little no name school beat the mighty powerhouse. Why? Why do we enjoy seeing this? This really makes no sense to me, or I would assume anyone who really thinks about it. We as Americans, seem to have something engrained in us that draws us to the underdog, the team that has no hope to beat the evil powerhouse school. I think this is something that is psychologically wired into our nation and that will certainly not change any time soon. For that reason though, it is also helping drive the machine.
Don’t you, at the end of the day want to see the two best teams play for the championship? Isn’t that what a REAL championship is, the two best teams playing for all the marbles? But looking back at the history of the tournament how often has that happened? I would say perhaps only a hand fully of times has this happened, but in most cases usually, again usually, two pretty good teams will play for it all. Yet we still cheer for the underdog even though it rarely works out that the best play for the championship. I would say that for any given game, unless you ask a person who is a fan of either team, any random person will probably be rooting for the higher seed (which ever seed is worse) again because they want to see an upset. And if you ask them why, I am sure they will say something like, because it’s exciting! While that may be true, it is still a terrible, horrible, no good way to determine a champion.
What is insane is the fact that this system is unlikely to change in the future, in fact I think it will get worse before it gets better. Meaning that I think the tournament will expand to more teams before it gets smaller, rewarding more teams that have worse records. I think the only logical solution is to make the tournament smaller. A tournament of 32 teams or less would be better by all accounts with the top teams getting some sort of bye in the first round. This format would also put more emphasis on the regular season, in the hopes that every game matters, vs. the format that is in place now where the regular season almost does not matter at all. I think making the tournament more exclusive rather than inclusive is a better way to determine a true champion, but that will never happen because of the money involved.
Then what about the mid-majors? What about them? They will be left out in the cold, ok so who cares? Again they do not compete at the same level as most of the elite schools, and if they do get to that level they will probably make the tournament as I laid it out. And again because they do not compete at the same level, why should they get the same chance to win the championship? How is that fair? What does North West State Tech University A&M getting beat by Kansas, UK, Arizona, UCLA Duke or UNC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament tell me? That the latter teams are better, well duh. But why should UNC have to even play that game in the first place? How will that game help determine a true champion, that game is basically meaningless in every way, shape, and form. There is no reason to play it. Never, not once, has a 16 seed beat a 1 seed, yet we keep having that game. WHY? Seems pretty silly to me. Again, only the best teams should be included and have a chance to win a championship, and why do we reward such mediocrity in basketball.
It may sound like I am ranting, and I kind of am, but I am also just perplexed that this is the system that so many basketball fans have grown to enjoy, with unquestioning love, and a diehard support for. When honestly it makes no sense. None!