College basketball might not be as popular as the NFL or the NBA, but it has one trump card over any other American sport that makes it stand out above them all: March Madness. Simply put, no other sport has a more wild and exciting postseason than NCAA basketball.
The beauty of pitting 68 teams against each other in a single-elimination tournament cannot be understated. Every game carries a massive amount of importance since the loser goes home for the season. Meanwhile, the best teams get to face each other deep into the tournament in order to decide which college basketball program is the nation's best.
Granted, that is how the formula is supposed to play out. Instead, upsets occur often and out of nowhere during March Madness. This parity gives the NCAA tournament a lot of excitement, as David can take down Goliath on the sport's biggest stage.
However, is this truly what college basketball fans want? Are upsets by mid-major programs truly as amazing as they have been cracked up to be? To be honest, I am not so sure that parity helps the tournament as much as it damages the product in the long run.
Early upsets in the NCAA tournament are exciting at the time, but their benefit is only short term. Sure, it was fun last season when Norfolk State defeated Missouri. At the time, it was easy to get excited seeing a mid-major take out the Big 12 champions.
However, the second round game was Florida versus Norfolk State. No offense to fans of Norfolk, as they were obviously excited about the matchup. But for the general college basketball fan, this matchup was not nearly as exciting as a potential meeting between Florida and Missouri.
In the end, Florida routed Norfolk State 84-50. This result should have been expected given the talent disparity between the two clubs. If Missouri was the opponent instead, then this second round game would have been much more entertaining.
Another example comes from last season's NCAA tournament. Lehigh pulled off an incredible upset by defeating the Duke Blue Devils. Fans across the country celebrated the victory, but at what cost? The following second round matchup between Lehigh and Xavier proved to be an easy 12-point victory for the Musketeers.
If Duke had won their game against Lehigh, a potential Elite Eight matchup against Kentucky was a possibility. This would have been the most-hyped game of the tournament up to that point. Instead, Duke lost and Kentucky played against a non-rival team in Baylor.
Lehigh's victory defines the problem with parity in the NCAA tournament. In the short term, these upsets are exciting. However, the long-term outlook has these teams often losing in the next round and the future rounds suffer from a lack of high-profile teams competing against each other.
For example, take a look back at the 2011 NCAA Final Four. On one side of the bracket was a battle of heavyweights between Kentucky and Connecticut. These are teams that casual fans want to see on the sport's biggest stage.
However, the other half of the Final Four was incredibly weak as VCU played against Butler. Sure, it was entertaining watching both teams win games early in the tournament, but then they took up half of the Final Four and had to play against each other. Both teams shot incredibly poorly and the outcome was unexciting. In addition, the winner guaranteed that the national championship game would feature a major talent disparity, which resulted in a dreadful 53-41 national final.
In contrast, the 2012 Elite Eight featured some of the best programs in college basketball squaring off against each other and they produced must-see television. In one bracket, North Carolina faced Kansas for a spot in the Final Four. Meanwhile, another region featured Ohio State and Syracuse playing against each other. The South region featured the Kentucky Wildcats playing an exciting Baylor team, and they awaited the winner of Louisville and Florida.
College basketball fans want to see these types of programs advancing far into the NCAA tournament in order to watch great games between the best teams in America. If there is a mid-major program that fits this bill, then that is great. But more often than not, the schools that pull off the major upsets are simply not built to succeed deep into the NCAA tournament.
That is the core issue with parity invading March Madness. If more mid-major teams could sustain consistent success throughout the tournament, then there wouldn't be blowout games like Florida versus Norfolk State. There would not be as great talent disparities as there have been. The games would be more exciting and the storylines more compelling.
Sure, there is the rare case of teams such as George Mason and VCU who have advanced to a Final Four. However, their results are the outliers as these cinderella teams more often than not lose in the following round to a more talented team. This creates short-term excitement but sacrifices long-term excitement for the rest of March Madness.
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