So last Thursday, we learned that the NCAA Tournament was indeed expanding. Much to the delight of cool people, (and to the chagrin of people who hate things that are awesome) the addition of four teams was certainly an acceptable move. The CBS/Turner partnership, which now owns the rights for the next 14 seasons, faced little competition from ESPN, meaning a 96-team tournament was actually not enticing enough to get the Worldwide Leader to apply any real pressure.
It was a decision that probably generated thousands of fist-pumps and high-fives among co-workers, and relief among those who were worried the greatest tournament in all of sports was about to look like it had just eaten a hearty portion of steroid pie. Thankfully, we have been dealt an expansion plan that allows us to sleep easy and resume our normal lives...for now.
Now, the biggest question remaining regarding tournament expansion is just how it will effect the look and feel of the bracket. Does a 68-team tournament yield the simple addition of three play-in games, meaning the conceived eight worst automatic qualifiers will square off for a chance to get trainwrecked by a #1 seed? Or is this an opportunity to create four made-for-TV bubble match-ups that provide a sense of finality to all that chatter we love to hear during the final month of the regular season?
My knee-jerk reaction is to scream and shout for the "Bubble Round," much like ESPN's Dana O'Neil, but in reality the whole idea just doesn't work.
Look at the pool of teams who were the final at-larges this season and the range of seeds they encompassed: No. 12 UTEP, No. 12 Utah State, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 10 Missouri, No. 10 Georgia Tech, No. 10 Florida, No. 9 Florida State, No. 9 Louisville and No. 9 Wake Forest. If you put that range of teams, spanning four seed lines, into four games, where do you eventually seed them? Do you take a No. 9 like FSU, Louisville or Wake and downgrade them all the way to a No. 12 spot if you feed them into that line?
It's a great observation. And what's more, you leave a quartet of teams seeded anywhere from 5-8 going to bed on Selection Sunday without a first-round opponent. I can already hear some assistant coaches and video coordinators whining about having to prep for two possible first-round opponents.
What makes a "Bubble Round" even more difficult to seamlessly implement into the tournament experience is just how the fan fills out their brackets prior to that first Thursday. Assuming the first four games take place on a Tuesday, that gives the fan a cool 24 hours to finalize their bracket, as the field of 64 will only be "set" for one business day. It's an issue you don't quite consider in May, but when that unfinished budget report and incomplete East Region stare at you demanding attention, well, now you have a real dilemma and wish you didn't have to hastily finish both.
So let's keep this expansion simple: send the little guy to Dayton, and slot Virginia Tech as a #12. It will make life so much easier.