Monday, March 12, 2007

March madness indeed

There's nothing like March Madness for 63 college basketball teams across the country. They get to compete for a national championship in the NCAA tournament. National television audiences follow, alumni are thrilled, and the chance at a memorable upset or a wonderful run (or in the case of George Mason last year, both) await.

Then there are the other two teams that get to participate in the play-in game.

The NCAA used to have a field of 64 teams, which was quite logical and neat. Then another conference became eligible for an automatic qualifier. So what did the NCAA do? No, not drop one of the at-large teams that gets picked on selection Sunday. It takes two of the lowest-ranked teams and has them play off on a Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to advance to the main tournament.

One of the teams will lose, so their NCAA experience consists of a hurry-up trip to Dayton to play in a game few care about. The other goes to face nearly certain elimination against a top-seeded team, having had little time to rest in the hurry-up week that preceded the game.

The issue has come up a lot lately in Western New York, as Niagara was given the dreaded play-in game on March 11. The Eagles get to go to Dayton on the 13th to face that natural rival, Florida A&M. As we used to say in college, those schools HATE each other.

But it's a bad idea no matter who is playing. Let's say the last at-large team in the field this year was the 18-12 Stanford. Yeah, it's nice for Stanford to get in, but it's not like the Cardinal has any chance of going all the way this month. So Stanford gets an extra game or two, while someone's experience is spoiled. Doesn't seem like a fair trade to me.