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Mega March Madness: The Approach

There are several hurdles that any tournament expansion plan has to clear before it can be put in place. (It should here be noted that, though I think my plan is amazing, I also recognize that it doesn't stand the slightest hope of being incorporated. Just thought you should know that this was a mental exercise for me, not a proposal that I'm hoping the NCAA will stumble across.) One is of simple logistics. Two teams can't play each other if they are in different gyms. A single team can't play two games at the same time. Playing on consecutive days is eventually going to take a toll on a team and the quality of basketball that they're going to play, and thus should be avoided.

This isn't the answer to anything.
Another is that of the valuation of the regular season. If you've ever talked to someone who is a fan of college football but not of college basketball, you've heard someone go on about how great it is when losing even one game at the very beginning of the year could torpedo the whole thing. While I don't buy into that mindset (get a tournament already, college football), it does bear keeping in mind that a team's accomplishments in the regular slate of games shouldn't just be thrown out once tournament time rolls around.

A tournament must also be organized in such a manner than it results in crowning the best team - or at least a reasonable simile thereof - as the champion. It should be noted that, though this is "fair," it is not the same as "equal." Not every team deserves to have the same path to the title; some have earned the assumption that they are better than some of the other competitors and thus should be given a pass to the latter stages. For example, it's not ridiculous (or is it?) to assume that you may have a tournament in which 60 of the 68 participants have distinguished themselves to the point at which they should be given a bye directly into the second round. The other eight should have to duke it out through all seven rounds if they want to win the thing.

There are also some real-world concerns to be taken into account. For the tournament to be a success, it needs to be capable of keeping fan interest high throughout. Good pacing is part of this. You don't want the thing to drag on like the NBA playoffs, which just wrapped up last week despite starting in mid-February. The staccato rhythm of the current NCAA tournament (Thurs-Sun, catch your breath, repeat) captures this well. Additionally, each game needs to be meaningful, or people won't care until the high-leverage games begin.

More of this is always good.
It's also pretty obvious that the competition should become more compelling as it wears on. This is ideally done by a mixture of better ball being played as the worse teams head home, and Cinderella storylines developing as a couple of lower-tier teams get hot at the right time. This is not accomplished by having the final in an unfamiliar court with an awful shooting background that will turn the game into a cynical and defensive affair, just in case anyone thought it was.

Also, money. That's where the real world rubber meets the road. Someone needs to get the teams where they need to be, pay the officials, hire enough security to keep Billy Packer and Bill Raftery well away, et c., and the NCAA isn't a charity. The most direct and effective route to money is through the television (not literally). Every major sporting event in the ESPN era has been in some way scheduled to make the TV people happy, and an effective NCAA tournament plan is no exception.

So where does that leave us? A tournament must be logistically feasible, provide good quality of play, take the regular season into account, and get better as it goes on. And it also needs to have compelling storylines to keep the casual fan interested all the while making mountains of cash to pay for everything and line the NCAA's coffers. Well, I've got a solution that addresses all of those concerns to an at least adequate level. And everyone gets to play. Wait, what? I'll lay it out for you next Monday.