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Automatic qualifiers shouldn’t go to Dayton

A trip to the armpit of Ohio is no reward

NCAA Basketball: MEAC Tournament Championship-Coppin State at Norfolk State Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Dayton, Ohio is no garden spot. When people plan vacations to this great state they start with Lake Erie, the islands, and Cleveland. They may consider the river, Cincinnati, and the gateway to the Appalachian. Perhaps the more adventurous get a cabin in the Hocking Hills. Dayton, however, must surely be one of the least selected places on Expedia. AirBnB may have Dayton listings, but they probably lagged behind those in Ukraine in sales even before the recent largesse of strangers.

So why does the NCAA punish teams that have won their conference by sending them there? There is nothing in Dayton that will make a trip there to play on either Tuesday or Wednesday significant for reasons other than basketball. Dayton is as bland as midwestern city as you are likely to ever take a bypass around or a freeway straight through. Norfolk State, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and some other small schools will have spent an entire season trying to get to the tournament, find out that they are essentially playing a play-in game to get into the bracket, and then get sent to Dayton. That is about as demotivating as it gets.

On the flip side, the play-in games in Dayton seem a reasonable place to drop teams who lack a good resume. It could be a team like Xavier, who folded down the stretch, or Texas A&M, who lost eight in a row at one point. May put Memphis there for whatever it was they were doing the first half of the season, Rutgers for not actually being very good, or SMU for the strident mediocrity they and their conference embody, or even North Texas for choking in their conference tournament. For those teams, Dayton is purgatory. You’ve landed here, in this place suspended between the NIT and the real tournament, now prove you should earn a spot in the bracket.

But don’t do it to the little guys. They’ve earned their shot to be Providence nearly shocking UCLA or UMBC actually shocking Virginia. At the very least, they deserve to be felled by a giant. If you lose to Gonzaga by 20, at least you were in the NCAA tournament on the court with Gonzaga. Bowing out to a 16 seed in a city forgotten by everyone except for once a year is not how anyone’s dream should end.