Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the "First Four"

This is the exciting one. In case you forgot.
Over the past two days, the country has been treated (tortured with? whatever) the first First Four, the NCAA's newest, greatest idea to somehow increase the appeal of the student-athlete...or is it to make them more money? I never get that right. Either way, the last two nights proved to me at least--and I'm  not the only one--that the NCAA still does not understand how to balance the interests of the country with the best interests of the sport. This "First Four" is no more a part of the NCAA tournament experience than the US Open qualification tournament is for one of the Grand Slams of tennis.  I don't mean to disparage what it is the players do--they won their conference tournaments, they get to play on national television, and they're living the dream of being Division I student-athletes. However, until the top players and teams are playing, the games are nothing more than a play-in, a chance to get into the tournament--and I think we've already given some teams enough chances to do that. Hit the jump for more stat-less opinionated ranting. I mean, sports journalism.

Congrats, USC, you made it to the tournament...feel better?
I've always been a fan of the underdog, like much of the country, and I really do enjoy quality games played by teams just under the radar, in leagues like the A-10, Horizon, and Colonial Athletic (one of the reasons I have George Mason beating Villanova today--those squads are consistently underrated). However, watching Texas-San Antonio manhandle Alabama State, save for a late run that nearly made it single-digits (gasp!), gave me no "One Shining Moment", no sense of real joy--it was a chance for two lower conferences to pit their conference champions against each other, for another chance to get annihilated by a well-rested Ohio State team.

If top teams scheduled UTSA and Alabama State in their regular season non-con, that would be described as a "soft" schedule--so why make the rest of us watch them now as some sort of ploy that this is for the national championship? As for the other matchups, does last night's embarrassing 15-turnover, starting lineup foul-out for Southern Cal really enhance the school's image? I'll give credit to Virginia Commonwealth, playing great defense and earning coach Shaka Smart some nice props, but they shouldn't have had to play that first game against a clearly undeserving Southern Cal, whose resume did include a win over Texas--but also a 20-point home loss to Rider, as well as home losses to Oregon and Cal. Not that I'm so sure VCU deserved to be in over some other teams (Colorado and Virginia Tech have some legitimate reasons to be upset), but the line does need to be drawn somewhere. When the NCAA wakes up and realizes that TODAY is the day people are buzzing about, not Tuesday and Wednesday, maybe they'll do the right thing and go back to 64/65 teams.

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