Bring Mid-Majors, Ads and Money

Although I typically root for the underdog, I can’t help but feel that VCU’s appearance in this year’s Final Four is rather ill-timed as it relates to the future of The Tournament.  Shaka Smart’s team is gritty and as one of the last four teams invited to the field of 68, they have shown what a streaky, mid-major team can do to a bracket during March Madness.  But VCU’s “Cinderella” status is not a result of expansion; rather, it is a consequence of the selection committees’ myopic vision that major conferences are deserving of an inordinate number of invitations to the dance.  Schools like Butler and VCU are pushed down the totem pole to 8 and 11 seeds and are deemed “upstarts” instead of recognized as legitimate programs capable of beating the squads from the major conferences like the Big East, Big Ten and SEC.   

So why did the Big East rack up 16% of the 2011 bids?   MONEY.  All of the Big East teams selected for the dance came from significant population centers where even casual fans are engaged by CBS’s masterstroke of sports coverage and marketing, the NCAA Tournament.  (Come on, you can hum the theme in your head).   Schools like tiny St. Mary’s – which has been left behind for two years in a row – have neither the local numbers nor the national panache to generate viewership.  And viewership equals advertising revenue which CBS/Turner Sports desperately needs in order to generate ROI in light of the $10.8 Billion it paid last April for the rights to broadcast the tournament for the next 14 years.

How can the NCAA get around the perception that it relies too heavily on the power conferences?  Like any business, they try to have their cake and eat it too.  It is no coincidence that last April, the NCAA Board of Directors considered increasing the field of schools invited to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to a whopping 96.  Do any of you non-conspiracy theorists think that NCAA’s idea of expansion could, perhaps, be driven by the dollars associated with the CBS deal?   There are only a total of 347 Division 1 NCAA programs teams, so increasing the field to 96 means that 27.6% of the teams in the entire nation would qualify for the tournament.  Fortunately for now, wisdom slightly prevailed over greed and the Board of Directors only pushed for a limited expansion of three additional teams in 2011.  For you history buffs, the last time the men’s field was expanded was in 1985, yielding tourney champ Villanova (an 8th seed) beating mighty Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.  However, in the decade just prior to the 1985 expansion to 64 teams, the NCAA rode the growth wave like a rented mule. 

Year Teams
1985 64
1984 53
1983 52
1980 48
1979 40
1975 32

 The NCAA Board of Directors (aka CBS/Turner Sports pawns) was not going to get to a 96 team field in one fell-swoop, but I believe that history repeats itself, and the NCAA will continue to add teams to the dance in dribs and drabs over the next few years until it ultimately reaches the target 96 team field in by 2018.  You see, NBC owned the rights to broadcast the NCAA Tournament from 1969 to 1981.  CBS began pursuing a new deal 1980 – also coincidentally when the last period of expansion occurred.

The 96-team target of the CBS/NCAA coalition also aligns perfectly with the new American “everyone is a winner” philosophy where we reward mediocrity and all of the kids go home with a trophy.  Congratulations media-education conglomerate, you are well on your way to crapping up the best three weeks in college sports.  And as for VCU – which some proponents claim would not have been in Houston but for the expansion to 68 teams – it’s not the extra three bids this year that allowed the Rams to be included in the tourney. They should have been there in the main bracket of 64 teams instead of Villanova, Penn State, Michigan State, Tennessee or Georgia. Take a look at the pedigree, potential fan base and boosters of those five programs and compare them to VCU.  John Marinatto, the commissioner of the Big East, said it best in a recent e-mail, “Placing 11 teams into the N.C.A.A. championship doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a concerted, consistent and focused effort on the part of our coaches, [and] administrators…”  What do you think that means?

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4 Responses to “Bring Mid-Majors, Ads and Money”

  1. Puddy Says:

    I understand what you are saying and agree with you. Regarding the ‘celebrate mediocrity’ notion, it’s too true, especially in what one would consider “upper class” communities. What, we don’t give enough hand-outs to our kids already? What do they REALLY have to work for anyway and then they get a medal even when they stink? Great. Raising a society of losers, victims, etc that expect recognition for breathing.
    These emerging athletes are not pushed enough. I’m not talking about bringing back the medicine balls or dragging kids behind your car to get them to run, but RUN them- hills, lines, whatever. Get their little Wii muscles heated up…shred them, and build them back up. That is what saved Butler in Saturday night’s game. They had the legs to feed the wolf. VCU had the skills and the wills, but lost in the end, I think, because they couldn’t keep pace.

  2. jerrodblog Says:

    march madness stops today and I think kemba walker will get everthing!

  3. Rayford Samora Says:

    That was the WORST basketball game I think I’ve ever seen. Total waste of time. Can’t believe Howard and Mack were held to puny points. UConn really didn’t seem that good but our town high school team could’ve beaten Butler all to heck. What an anti-clima­x… should’ve read my book instead of wasting 3 hours on a flop. Can’t believe Butler beat all those teams beforehand and then ended it all in the dumps. Wonder if VCU could’ve beat UConn? We’ll never know.

  4. White tea Says:

    Nice article. Thanks.

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