PHILADELPHIA — News item: The Atlantic Coast Conference is proposing having all teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
In a normal year, my opinion would be: No way, horrible idea, don’t mess with near-perfection. Since this is 2020, all that is out the window, out of sight — including the idea that March Madness should be sacrosanct.
This is a good idea.
Not necessarily for the big boys like the ACC. For all the little guys. For the players, all of them. For the simple thought that maybe everyone would get to enjoy something in this year where nobody has been able to enjoy much of anything.
Also, logistically, there is some logic. As every league has its own ideas about how to get started, how many games are to be played, when to play them … choosing an NCAA Tournament field could be a nightmare. You might be comparing apples to motorcycles to lawn furniture.
This idea, first reported by Jon Rothstein, would have to get over a lot of hurdles, starting with traditionalists wedded to the status quo.
But this idea gives each league wide latitude. Maybe some would only have a single round-robin, then put together a pod for a conference tournament. You could go pod-only. Or round-robin only. We don’t know what the COVID-19 landscape will look like this winter, so allowing for as many variables as possible makes sense.
Again, start with the players. Any underclassmen who qualified for last year’s NCAA Tournament but didn’t get to experience March Madness would know they’re getting there.
In a normal year, we almost have this already, if you consider that conference tournaments are kind of the start of the national elimination tournament. Say you’re in last place in the America East. You head to the conference tournament. If you never lose again, you will be NCAA champions.
You could weight it. Give seeded teams a double bye. Give conference champions a bye. That’s how it sort of works in soccer. The FA Cup in England, imported to other countries including this one, is a beautiful thing. Any local amateur side can start up the ladder and if they keep winning, they’d end up playing some Premier League power at Wembley Stadium. Doesn’t usually happen that way, but there are cool upsets. This has been going since 1871.
Heck, the World Cup itself operates this way. Everyone begins qualifying on equal footing.
Enough soccer talk. This is hoops. Fine. Here’s the truth: The NCAA, and society itself, owes all these players something for their sacrifices. Call this a gift.
“Making the NCAA Tournament is such a huge deal for so many programs, I would hate to see it,” said one coach familiar with the NCAA Tournament. “But with a pandemic I feel we may have to try anything to make it happen.”
As for interest — imagine a local pod at the Palestra full of local men’s teams participating. Maybe Villanova gets a double bye out of it, but say the rest of the City 6 plus Delaware, Rider, Lehigh and Lafayette are all participating, single elimination.
Meanwhile, the women are on North Broad Street or over on Hawk Hill, a similar thing unfolding.
A good question is asked about the value of the regular season if all 351 schools are invited. This just isn’t the year that we should care about such things, for the men’s and women’s fields.
Would testing protocols be an issue, with policies so different around the country? Obviously. But that should be a cost factor figured out by the national governing body, evening the playing field.
Another big advantage of this: The timing is less important. If the pandemic is hammering us all winter, March Madness becoming May Madness is built into this. There’s an opportunity to be nimble.
The worst idea we’ve heard would be to shorten the tournament, make it say only 32 teams, do away with the automatic bids for the little guys. That would devalue the whole thing. But surviving a true winner-take-all basketball feast, you’d make history. The good kind.
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