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Mega March Madness: Final Thoughts

Mega March Madness Series:
The Tournament

As promised, that's about it for Mega March Madness. The tournament was originally constructed as an exercise in looking ahead to where the continued expansion of the NCAA tournament is taking us. While I believe there is validity is the ideas put forth, I also recognize that the NCAA itself is probably heading in a different direction than the one we examined. I've banged up some final thoughts on MMM and have placed the below. They alternate between strengths and weaknesses inherent in the format, beginning with a strength. I'm sure you've thought of other pros and cons; feel free to point them out.

Conference tournaments become more competitive: Right now, a team that has locked down a good seed in the NCAA tournament does the cost/benefit analysis of weighing a few extra days of rest and recuperation for its players against the possible seeding bump that comes with winning its conference tournaments. I'm not saying that teams ever mail in a conference tourney, just that some teams go in a little hungrier than others. If you don't think that's the case, compare Xavier's performance in the 2004 A-10 Tournament to its more recent efforts. When they came in with nothing guaranteed, they performed a whole lot better.

Under the plan we put forth, teams would benefit from staying in their conference tournaments by playing familiar teams in a single venue. As soon as you drop out, you're facing to possibility of travelling anywhere in the country to face a team that has its back to the wall, same as you do. Remaining in the conference tournament keeps a team one more loss away from going home for the year; with no more guaranteed passage to the round of 64 for a team that has had a good regular season, teams aren't going to take any postseason games lightly.

Bracketology functionally dies: One of the great things about college basketball is trying to guess who is going to make the tournament just by how they've played early in the year. Everyone knows that a lot can change between Christmas and Selection Sunday, but nobody likes to cruise through SBN's or ESPN's Bracketology page and see his team in that "next four out" section. Every game - especially for a mid-major program - is played with an eye on creeping up towards the comfortable portions of the S-curve; with no at-large bids, there's really not a whole lot of profit in putting together an S-curve or a bracket projection.

The conference season is a bigger deal: If you paid attention to our last installment of this series, you noticed that almost every conference put its teams into the Mega March Madness in measured doses. As the round progressed, so did the teams falling to the national tournament. Factor in the fact that many conferences use single- or double-bye systems to make their tournaments work, and you're looking at a big difference between, say finishing eighth and ninth in the Big Ten table. Teams that used to be battling for the right to get crushed in the semi-finals and head on to the CBI would suddenly find themselves scrapping for every game in hopes of earning a first-round bye and having a little extra security when it comes to the national tournament.

The non-conference season isn't much of a deal at all: With no RPI boost to be playing for, the non-conference season would certainly be changing shape. Teams that once had little motivation for playing the big boys would now have no motivation at all (beyond the obvious financial benefit). While the non-conference schedule would still be good for honing a team against the best competition available in hopes of being ready for conference play, the larger, March-related benefits would go right out the window.

There would be a ton of basketball in March: Using last year's calendar and counting only postseason games, there would be a mind-boggling 453 games in the first twelve days of March. Better still, each one would have direct bearing on the national tournament. That's a stunning amount of high-leverage basketball played before Selection Sunday. This brings at least two obvious benefits right from the start: it's an enormously entertaining proposition, and it's a potentially self-sustaining cash cow for the powers that be.

At the end of the day, that's the dichotomy tournament expansion fights to resolve. We the fans want our games to mean something, not to have the experience diluted into a meaningless morass of show-up-then-go-home games like the college football bowl season. The people in positions of power have to balance that with the desire to make money. That desire isn't all bad - bills have to be paid - but it almost always creates tension with the people who want to see the competition in its purest form. If there's a better proposal out there to keep both sides reasonably happy, I certainly hope the NCAA finds and implements it. The sooner they get that done, the better.