UNT & TV screwed. How TV execs could push for a much better NCAA tourney.

Tobi WritesAnalyst IMarch 18, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 16:  Head coach Johnny Jones  of the North Texas Mean Green walkls the sidelines during first half of round one of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Memphis Tigers at the New Orleans Arena on March 16, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Memphis defeated North Texas 73- 58 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The University of North Texas's men's basketball team won their conference and then backed it up by winning their conference tourney. 

They are 24-8 and they have won 15 of their last 17 games, finishing the season by winning 11 in a row. 

Four of their starters made some version of the all-conference team and their team is  upperclassmen-loaded.

The team is coached by an exceptional coach, Johnny Jones, who has led this once hopeless basketball school to four straight 20-win seasons.

Great coach.  Good season record. Won conference and tourney. Veteran-winning team.  Riding long hot streak. Balanced and talented starting unit.

It sounds like a team that should be a real threat to make a Butler-like run in the tourney, right?

UNT is a 15th-seed playing the No. 2 team in the Big 12, Kansas State.

The selection committee looked at UNT's schedule and said, "You didn't play anyone. Therefore, you aren't any good, so we are going to put you against one of the 8 best teams in the field and arguably one of the 4 hottest teams in the tourney. "

That is a Bad Argument

I know many basketball fans will argue that is how the tournament should roll.  I'd argue that is bad logic.

There is only so much a team in a crap conference can do.  Could UNT have done more in terms of scheduling? Sure, but maybe not a lot more.

Suppose UNT had lined up two road games against two of regularly the best powers in the region, UT and Kansas, as part of their pre-conference schedule.  UNT struggled early on while UT was strong early and Kansas has been dominant all year.  Those games would be blowouts and UNT would be 22-10 and would still be a 15th-seed.

The only thing playing more BCS conference powers on the road does is eliminate the rare chance that UNT might make the tourney as a second Sun Belt team.

(UNT played two tourney teams this year, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.  They lost both games, but were competitive even though those games were early in the year before UNT hit their stride and got everyone healthy.)

The 16th seeds Lehigh (22-10), E. Tennessee (20-14), and Vermont (25-9) and the play teams  Arkansas-Pine Bluff (17-15) and Winthrop (19-13) are teams from bad conferences that didn't win their conference regular season title, but caught a break to win their conference tourney. With the possible exception of Vermont, they should be 16th seeds.

UNT is one of the many conference champs with great records and good teams who are annually slotted in the 12th to 15th-seed range.

They are ranked below all of the BCS conference "bubble schools" who didn't sniff their conference title; aren't likely capable of winning three games in a row against decent competition; and weren't even sure they'd make the tourney.

I don't say all this to bemoan UNT's rotten hand.  Lots of schools have the same lousy hand.

I say it to bemoan the rotten hand college fans have been given by not seeing non-BCS conference champions who have earned their way in with season and tourney wins and can legitimately make a run given an appropriate shot at tourney success based on their regular season success.

Why appropriate seeding makes sense.

Giving a conference champion an appropriate seeding is just not right, it also makes business sense.

It would make a lot of financial sense to get the NCAA out of the seeding and selection business and put TV basketball experts and execs in charge.

Consider the makeup of the selection committee.

Dan Guerrero (chair) UCLA Athletic Director
Dan Beebe, Big 12 Conference Commissioner
Gene Smith, Ohio State University Athletic Director
Ron Wellman, Wake Forest University Athletic Director
Jeff Hathaway, University of Connecticut Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, Xavier University Athletic Director
Lynn Hickey, University of Texas-San Antonio Athletic Director
Doug Fullerton, Big Sky Conference Commissioner
Laing Kennedy, Kent State University Athletic Director
Stan Morrison, University of California-Riverside Athletic Director

Five BCS conference representatives and five non-BCS conference representatives headed by a BCS conference representative.

The BCS folks can just vote in BCS schools for the majority of the 33 at-large spots, knowing that their conference will profit even if it is a lean year for their conference this year.  After all, there are only six BCS conferences.

There are comparitively few constraints on them.  Their teams are well known and the assumption is that their at large candidates deserve to be there.

Non-BCS committee members will play it fair too, but they have far more working against them.

There are 26 non-BCS conferences. Those conferences' representatives on the committee not only have to find a way to argue their candidates they believe deserve a slot, but they also have to overcome the assumption that the non-BCS team is inferior to a BCS bubble team and they may have to do it without directly advocating their local schools. 

They also frankly may not have as good of a knowledge of the deserving non-BCS candidates as they aren't on TV as much.

Let's look at the Big Sky Conference. 

The Big Sky had two very strong teams, Weber State and Northern Colorado, the regular season champion and runner up respectively, that failed to win the postseason tourney after very strong years.  Both could have legitimately been candidates for the NCAA tourney.

Doug Fullerton, as a Big Sky representative, would have to excuse him from the discussion on Big Sky schools, leaving his schools to be debated by a voting block that leans five BCS votes to four non-BCS votes and has no voice advocating his schools.

Additionally, all the non-BCS representatives know there will only be a few slots given to non-BCS teams, so even those four voters might be in question as a deserving non-Big Sky (or other non-BCS) school might be considered "deserving, but less deserving than another non-BCS school" in the minds of one of the non-BCS voters.

Non-BCS schools would be smart to try to cede their five slots to ESPN basketball analysts so they would always have five possible "non-BCS" advocates.

They'd also be smart to ask TV executives to force at least one "TV executive vote" onto the committee, so they could potentially outvote the BCS group.

If TV folks had a role picking the teams and a majority voice in assembling the brackets, UNT would probably not be a No. 15 seed; Murray State (30-4) would probably not be a No. 13 seed, and tourney bubble teams like 13-loss Minnesota team (21-13) would not be a No. 11 seed nor would a 12-loss Florida team (21-12) be a 10th seed.

Everyone knows most of those middle of the pack BCS conference bubble schools will be out by the second round, so what is really going on here?

The Big Money Grab and the five tiers in the tourney

It is a big money grab that you need to look at the nature of the tourney to understand.

Their are essentially five tiers in the tourney. 

The top-tier schools have proven that they play consistently high level basketball.  While you may have a couple overated teams in this group, the one to four seeds are the favorites to make the Sweet 16 and usually your champion is among them. 

The second tier, the five to seven seeds, are the good teams that just aren't that consistent or have a fatal flaw.  One of them could make a run and win the title, but in general,they aren't consistent enough to beat more than three good teams in a row.

The third and fourth tiers, the eight-15 seeds, are all good enough to beat any of the five to seven seeds if they get a good matchup of styles but are usually a notch below the top seeds. 

The third tier plays their way into the tournament. At the high end are the mid-major champions. In the middle are the mid-major runnerups and the dominant champions of the lower level conferences.  At the bottom are the merely strong champions of the dog conferences. 

The fourth tier is comprised of BCS conference teams that finished in the middle of the pack and are in the tournament strictly due to the strength of their conference, not a displayed consistent ability to win games.

Finally, you have your teams that shouldn't be in the tourney. 

These teams won their postseason conference tourneys and are only in because their conference despirately needs the revenue and exposure of a conference tourney. 

Those conferences hope against logic that if their regular season champ gets upset in their tourney, that regular season champ might get an at large bid. 

It almost never happens for the reasons I mentioned in talking about the selection committee dynamics.

How the money grab works

Every team that makes the tourney receives a share of the NCAA Tourney basketball revenue for their conference.  Each March Madness win gives their conference one more share of the tournament game money. 

While in the grand scheme of things UNT and Florida may actually be similar caliber teams—UNT more experienced and Florida more talented—the BCS schools want their bubble teams having the chance to win those five vs. 12, six vs. 11, seven vs. 10, and eight vs. nine matchups.

They want their scrubs bubble schools playing the talented schools that are vulnerable to upsets.

The dysfunctional part of the seeding process is the seeding of BCS conference bubble schools. 

Some of these schools are the absolute last schools to be let into the tourney, but once the seeding is done, they find their way into the eighth to 12 seeds ahead of dominant small conference powers and the strong conference runner-up from mid-major conferences who earn their way in with consistency.

These BCS scrub schools may be incapable of winning three games in a row, but they are usually more talented than the small conference champions and with four days can often win a first round game, eliminating a small conference's chance to win an additional tourney share.

This status quo has schools like UNT getting served up to the elites in round one and conferences like the Sun Belt are out with a single share. 

The status quo allows the BCS conferences usually take home twice as many shares in the first round and sometimes the second as maybe they should.

If the networks ran the show

No fan really wants to see a Minnesota, Florida, Wake Forrest, Georgia Tech, or California in the tourney this year.  They just aren't very good this year.  Basketball fans have seen them lose too much this year.

Basketball fans want to see the next Davidson lead by the next Stephon Curry.  They want to see the small conference power that is a lot better than reported.

TV execs get that.

They want the small school with the superstar in the tournament.

If TV ran the selection process, there is no way the Curry-lead Davidson team would have played the Patty Mills-led St. Mary's team in the NIT last season.  Both of those teams that were arguably robbed last season of deserved tournament slots would have been on TV in the NCAA tourney, not the NIT.

From a TV perspective it would be inexcuseable to pass over two worthy cinderellas led by dynamic talents.

If TV execs ran the seeding process, BCS conference dog schools would likely be the 14th and 15th seeds who are fed to the tournament powers—if they even made it!  Schools like UAB and Costal Carolina might have been much better tourney candidates in the eyes of TV execs who might have preferred them over teams with double digit losses.

With BCS dogs pushed down the seeding charts, schools like UNT might be a 13th or 14th seed playing say Purdue, Vanderbilt, or Baylor—a much more reasonable matchup.  Schools like Murray State might be playing Butler or Temple.

The odds of the non-BCS conferences producing a Cinderella story that TV can sell —and subsequently the non-BCS conferences combining to take home a lot more of the NCAA tourney money—would be vastly improved.

The small conference champ who wins their first game in the NCAA tourney is MUCH more dangerous in future rounds than a BCS dog, because they just peeled the ceiling off their expectations.  They are used to winning every time they step on the court, but now they have a tournament win telling them that they can replicate thier success against top level talent.

The BCS dog knows they have a lot of dog in them and that they will likely come back to earth soon.

TV execs would push for the former, while BCS adminstrators prefer the latter, where their elite schools win deep into the tournament and their scrubs knock off potential small conference threats in the first two rounds before those small conference  powers get rolling.

The end result would be a much more exciting tournament.

And if they really wanted to make some money...

Why not offer the NCAA more money to end their season a week earlier in March and set up a "play in" week to kick off March Madness?

The TV selection crew could name the top 96 programs in the country.

If they set some simple guidelines—no less than 20 wins & no more than 10 losses (or at least a two win to one loss ratio), no more than 45 percent of any conference membership making the field—they would come up with a pretty inclusive list.

The top 32 would be seeded as the top 8 seed in each region and given the week off.  The next 64 would be ranked by their RPI and paired off, 33 vs. 64, 34 vs. 63, etc.

The team with the better record would host the game, giving small conference schools the chance to do something they would never be able to do—potentially host a Duke or North Carolina in front of a sellout home crowd.

TV would pay travel costs for the road teams plus a small payout to all participants.

The 32 games could be set up to run Thursday through Sunday two to four at a time, ensuring a good game to broadcast.

After the play in round is over, RPIs would be recomputed and the remaining 32 teams would be seeded 33-64 allowing fans to have their familiar tournament brackets to fill out.

(Any school eliminated in the play in round would be eligible for the NIT or any other post season play, in very real terms turning the NIT into the NCAA's "loser bracket".  A lot of fans already consider the NIT to be the race for 66th.  This would just cement it.)

This would eliminate dog BCS schools who are incapable of winning an NCAA tournament game without those conferences getting another share at the expense of the non-BCS conferences.

Over time this would increase the income at a lot of lower level universities leading to improved programs and more dangerous cinderellas.

One hopes TV execs will chase the money and generate a much better tournament in future years.


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