This is my idea for a new college basketball playoff system.
There has been a lot of talk recently about whether the NCAA should expand their national tournament to 128 teams instead of keeping it at 65. And I agree with some of the arguments on both sides.
Someone in support of the 128 team tournament would argue that for almost all small and mid major conference teams, the regular season is absolutely worthless. Since their only real hope of getting into the national tournament is by winning their conference tourney, then their regular season is basically a warmup for that one chance. Also, the regular season for the best teams in the major conferences are also "essentially" worthless because all they are fighting for are seeds in the tourney. Its not like they are fighting to keep their season alive. So, since you have all these teams whose regular seasons are essentially worthless and the tourney is already somewhat watered down with so many average teams, then you may as well just make the tournament even larger and add a whole nother round of excitement.
Now someone in support of keeping the 65 team tournament would say the product is already watered down enough and is already exciting enough, so why bother changing it? Its already one of the most exciting sporting events of the year and youd be stupid to change it.
And I agree somewhat with both arguments. If youve read my piece on the college football playoff, youd know I dont like the idea of meaningless regular seasons. But on the otherhand, I do love March Madness and wouldnt want to change it. And while listening to both arguments recently, I came up with an idea that would include the best of both worlds. Now its not totally refined and may need some tweaking but I think the general idea is a good one.
As of right now, there are 31 conferences in college basketball. I think each conference should be guaranteed two spots in the national tourney. The first spot should go to the regular season conference champion. And the second spot should go to the conference tournament champion. That would give you a total of 62 entries which would leave 2 spots for atlarge teams.
Now I could be swayed into saying that for some of the minor conferences, the regular season champion and the conference champion would play for just one spot in the tourney. And I could be swayed into saying that some of the minor conferences should be grouped together as to not give as many spots to bad teams. And I could be swayed into saying that maybe the Big East should be rewarded with an extra bid or the divisions should be thought of separately because their conference has so many teams. There would need to be some tweaking. But hear me out...
Back in the day, the only way to make the national tourney was to win your conference tourney. Now, with all the atlarge bids, the major conference tournaments are essentially worthless because the teams that win are probably good enough to have qualified for the national tournament already. Back in the 70's, I guarantee you there were a lot of people who could tell you which schools won the previous 5 ACC tournaments. Now, there isnt a sole on the planet who could. It just doesnt matter. With my plan, these conference tournaments would once again be unbelievable, do or die games with seasons riding on the line.
Now with this plan, the regular season also becomes more important. Late in the college basketball season, we know who the top teams are and which of them are making the tournament. So the only games of real importance are the teams battling for 500 in the major conferences hoping to secure a bid. Again, like in football, i really dont care about Indiana with an 8-6 conference record playing Purdue with a 7-7 conference record battling for one of the bubble spots. I just dont care. I want to see 13-2 Duke playing 14-1 North Carolina with the winner earning a spot in the tournament. Now you could argue that the games for Indiana and Purdue now become meaningless but in my mind, they still have to keep playing well because they still have a shot of winning their conference tourney. And they still want to get a better seed for their conference tourney.
Also lets say the same school wins the regular season and conference tournament championship. You could have the two second place teams play for the second atlarge bid. Again, youd have another do or die, season on the line game which would make it even more exciting.
Now you could argue that this system makes the early nonconference games meaningless. Ive got two responses about that. First, after a bit of tweaking there would probably be more than two atlarge bids and for those schools, the strength and win-loss record against the nonconference schools would come in to play. Also, in the current system, if you think about it, the nonconference schedule really isnt that important anyways. How many bubble teams each year get left out because of a weak schedule? Not very many... three, four, five? Plus, most schools have four or five games against good teams and the rest are cupcakes. So the record against nonconference opponents are usually pretty close for teams of similar talent.
Now you could argue that if you awarded each conference two spots, youd have more lousy teams in the final tournament. But the beauty of the ncaa tournament is all the upsets on the first weekend, and then watching the cream rise to the top from the sweet sixteen on. Well in college basketball, you have 7 major conferences(ACC, Big East, Big10, Big12, C-USA, Pac10, and SEC). Then you have a group of conferences that almost yearly produce a couple of really good teams(Mountain West, A10, MAC, and Missouri Valley). So thats 11 conferences each most likely producing 22 really good teams. Couple that with at least two atlarge bids, there will be plenty of great teams to fill out the sweet 16 with possibly an upset or two along the way.
So basically in my system you would have a series of tournaments throughout the year. The conference regular season would be a round robin tournament with the winner getting an automatic bid. The conference tournaments would produce an automatic bid. Possibly, if you want to tweak some of the smaller conferences and if the major conferences that have the same school win the regular season and conference tournament titles, then you would have what is essentially a play in game getting an automatic bid. And then youd have the 64 team tournament itself. I think the excitement at the end of the year would be just the same but then youd have more excitement throughout the regular season as well.