That’s what a psychologist friend told me the other day when we were just chatting about life and basketball. We tend to talk a lot about those subjects, but this time we both were particularly down and whiny.
Of course these things about "the way it is" are subjects that I already knew much about and had come to terms with, but it’s always does the soul good to hear it from someone with some true knowledge. No, it didn’t make it feel any better to know that essentially people who have to work for a living are nothing more than a number on some Excel spreadsheet. But whatever...
Yadda, yadda, yadda.Actually, that goes for the people associated with basketball teams that play in the NCAA, too. In a bottom line driven world, there are none shallower than the folks who run the NCAA basketball tournament. If we have learned anything through the years it’s that the feudal system is still at play in the United States and the overlords are the guys who run college sports.
This is not to say the NCAA Tournament isn’t a great event. Far from it. In regard to sports playoff systems—both professional and amateur—it’s tough to top the annual basketball tournament the NCAA puts on for its top Division I teams. Each team is assigned a spot on a grid that corresponds directly to its strength in the field, a venue and a game time are decided upon and the players are given a ball to hash it out.
It can’t get any purer than that.
And as long as no one peaks behind the curtain than no one will be the wiser. Actually, the selection committee is kind of like how author Eric Schlosser describes the meat industry in his book, “Fast Food Nation” and the people will close their eyes and open their mouths for anything as long as they aren’t told how the animals are slaughtered.
In this case it’s how the teams are chosen. Look, every year someone or some group is disappointed about being left out or underrated. It’s a cliché at this point because it happens, every single year.
But that doesn’t make it right. Since there is no oversight or even direct knowledge of how the process comes together, it seem OK to assume that teams are placed in the venue and in a matchup that will get the most money for the NCAA. That’s fine as long as it’s explicit. The trouble is it is not. Just like the NCAA wants to make billions off the backs of teenagers playing a game in exchange for free classes and room and board, I’d love to know how the NCAA selection committee arrived at the fact that Temple is only good enough for a No. 5 seed in its tourney and Villanova is a No. 2.
Perhaps I’d even ask why some of the so-called “mid-majors” were left out when they very well might play more entertaining basketball than a “major” school team, but I already know the answer. Though perennial powers like UCLA, Connecticut, Arizona, Indiana and defending national champion North Carolina, are out of it this year, the committee chose to bump up the prestigious basketball schools instead of giving others at some marquee matchups.
The NCAA hears the complaints and brushes it off as one would expect, saying there are complaints every year and the tournament is always good. Still, that’s not the point. Apparently Toyota made a quality, affordable and an efficient car until the brakes stopped working on a few of them. What if the CEO of the car company said, “Yeah, I know the brakes don’t work, but look at the wax job on that thing… It’s sparkly!”
The NCAA basketball tournament is as shiny as the most precious diamond, but beauty has its price and no one is going to watch a basketball game just because it’s exciting. Oh no, people are far too shallow to figure out on their own what is good or not. That’s where the NCAA selection committee comes in with acronyms like RPI and formulas for measuring the strength of a team’s schedule or its quality wins. For instance, Temple finished the season as the top team in the Atlantic 10 conference and won the tournament championship for the third year in a row. That’s a pretty impressive feat and when coupled with an RPI ranking as the No. 8 team in the country, Temple should be looking at a No. 2 seed at best and a No. 3 at worst.
Conversely, Villanova checked in as the No. 4 best team in the Big East, a one-game exit from the conference tourney and an RPI of 11. Based on that, the best-case scenario puts Villanova as a No. 3 seed or a comfortable No. 4.
That was easy… or was it.
Well, it’s easy until the intangibles are factored in. Stray too far from North Broad Street and there aren’t too many people who can name a single player on the Temple team. Hell, most folks probably believe John Chaney is still the coach of the team and only know him as the guy who wanted to strangle John Calipari.
Meanwhile, Villanova got to the Final Four last season by winning one of the most exciting games of the tournament. Plus, coach Jay Wright is as genuine, stylish and as affable as they come in college basketball and his top player, Scottie Reynolds, is one of the all-time greats for a school with a proud basketball tradition. He’s been written about in Sports Illustrated and everything. Maybe that’s why a lot of the top college basketball pundits say Villanova will get to the Final Four on a route that is not nearly as difficult as last season.
So is this starting to make sense now? And if it is why do we even bother with things like RPI and strength of schedule and all of those other crazy metrics? Why not start with UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke and set it up around those teams? Then, if those teams are having a bad year, just bump up the second class or the better teams from whichever glamour conference (Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC or Pac-10) is playing well.
See, there doesn’t need to be all this frustration and depression about wrong and right. They already sold all the commercial time so just close your eyes and open up wide.