Web reaction: The NCAA First Four

July, 13, 2010
7/13/10
9:46
AM ET
Tuesday, when announcing the NCAA's decision to use a hybrid format for the NCAA tournament's expanded suite of play-in -- excuse me, "first round" -- games, outgoing selection committee chair Dan Guerrero wisely admitted that no matter what the NCAA did, it wouldn't please everybody. Not that it didn't try:
"You're not going to come up with the perfect model," outgoing committee chair Dan Guerrero said. "You're not going to come up with a model that is going to appease every constituency out there. But we felt that this model provided the opportunity to do something special for the tournament."

How did the NCAA do? After a day of reaction, most hoops media and fans seem to be, well, tenuously OK with the idea. A general consensus has formed: The idea isn't perfect, but if expansion has to happen, this is a creative, appealing way to do it. There are plenty of dissenters in the mix, too, people who find this whole hybrid nonsense a joke. Try as they might, the NCAA didn't please everybody. But considering the circumstances, it got pretty darn close.

Anyway, here's a roundup of some of the prevailing hoops opinion about the NCAA's new expansion format. As always, if you have links or posts you want me to see, hit me up on Twitter. Onward:
  • First, in case you missed them, here's a spate of reactions from our own team: Pat Forde says the hybrid format makes the best of a bad idea; Bracketologist Joe Lunardi approves; Dana O'Neil checks in with coaches, who seem to like the new format far more than the media do; and I cheerily wrote that I was pleasantly surprised by the expansion's end result.
  • Mike Miller is interested in the TruTV move, which he thinks could be brilliant: "The strangest move may be where the games will be broadcast: TruTV. Yes, TruTV, formerly known as Court TV, the place I turned to in college to solve my insomnia. I suppose that's one way to boost the tournament's 'reach' among average viewers, given that TruTV is in roughly 93 million households, while ESPN and ESPN2 are both in about 100 million. College hoops fans will seek out the 'First Four' games on a different network, while I doubt TruTV viewers would've changed to ESPN, which is where the play-in game has been shown the last few years. To recap: The Big Dance expands to 68 teams in 2011 and features four first-round games that will be shown on a non-sports network. Times do change."
  • SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean sums up the prevailing opinion well: "While I still feel expansion was a completely unnecessary innovation, a three-team jump was certainly the way to go, and this format, even though it smacks of trying to please everyone involved, should work well."
  • Rush the Court points out the problems with the all at-large format: "Putting the last eight at-large invitees in these games would have had its own problems, namely making higher seeded teams play one more game to win a championship than do the lowest seeds. Further, there would have been issues about how to seed these teams and where the winner of the games would be seeded. And then there’s the issue that these teams, entirely from either BCS conferences or mid-major conferences, would have the chance to earn extra money from potentially competing in another NCAA tournament game while the one-bid conference teams don’t get such a chance and instead have to settle for their one in a million (hyperbole alert) chance against a one or two seed."
  • John Gasaway is more negative than most, but he has his reasons: "I realize many pundits are fine with this today, but wait until they see it in action with actual team names inserted into these brackets. Inevitably a five-seed will lose to a 12 that emerged from a play-in game and we’ll hear all the usual talk about the 'advantage' and 'momentum' the 12 had from playing already. And as for talk of 10-seeds being in play-in games, mark me down as absolutely terrified. I’m already on the record as thinking that tournament seeding has far too little to do with reality. (And note that today’s decision only raises the stakes that will be riding on a team’s seed.) Now, if you’re talking about a team seeded as high as a 10, there’s a good chance that said team is way better than the selection committee could have realized. To require a team that good to win an extra game while every year the 64th-best team in the field is guaranteed a comparatively easy six-win path is antithetical to what’s made the NCAA tournament the best postseason spectacle in major American team sports. We’ve trusted the tournament’s outcomes precisely to the extent that the courts have been neutral, the brackets have been balanced, and the opportunities have been equal. Don’t get me wrong. A 68-team field with a funky hybrid play-in round is ten times better than a 96-team field. But today was a mistake and, worse, it was entirely avoidable."
  • Andy Glockner calls the NCAA's hedge "disappointing": "Now? We're left with the middle ground. The general public won't be interested in two of the First Four games, with the small-conference matchups likely to be buried in the afternoon on truTV. The bracket isn't significantly improved and the ongoing slippery slope of sacrifice of conference champs continues. This compromise also feels like a test case for a move to a 72-team event in which the eight weakest teams play for the 16-seeds and the last eight at-larges play for four spots. If that's where we're heading, they should have just done it to the small schools now. At least then they could start cashing in by beating each other in the tournament, rather than losing by 40 during the regular season in games that truly are shows about nothing."
  • CBS' Gary Parrish is just thankful he has a reason to watch on Tuesday night: "I wanted no expansion, but I thought the NCAA would expand to 96. So a 68-team field is fine with me because it's not as bad as it could've been. Likewise, I wanted the final eight at-large teams to play 'opening round' games, but I thought the NCAA would simply take the eight worst automatic qualifiers. So a compromise between the two -- the final four at-large teams and the worst four automatic qualifiers will compete in the 'opening round' games -- is not as bad as it could've been. So I'm not as mad as I could've been. In fact, I'm cool with it. Had this format been in place last season, we would've got something like UTEP vs. Mississippi State and Ole Miss. vs. Illinois on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday, and though those games aren't marquee in the traditional sense, they are much more intriguing than Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Winthrop. In other words, I'll watch. For the first time ever, I'll watch the NCAA tournament before Thursday."
  • Ballin' Is A Habit wonders if the new format hurts the office tournament pool: "Speaking of average fans, a huge reason why the NCAA Tournament is able to garner the money and attention it does is because everyone and their brother fills out a bracket. With this extra day of games -- of meaningful games -- occurring on a Tuesday, what does this do to the average office pool? Are people going to get organized, make their picks, get their money in, etc. in two days? Teams seeded 10th, 11th, and 12th are the most popular upset picks. What if two of those seeds aren't determined? If pool organizers decide the wait until after those games are played -- essentially giving everyone a freebie pick on those games -- will anyone actually want to watch them? How many people are truly going to care about Utah State playing NC State without a pick on the line?"
  • Yahoo! Sports' Matt Norlander has his share of concerns, but he does like that the big boys are now accountable: "Accountability for the major-conference teams: The big boys have to shut up if they don't win. Sure, we're going to have a school or two bicker if they miss the CHANCE to play in the play-in, but there's no whining to be done after the play-in has been completed. Win to get into the main field. [...] We will now know the final teams chosen in the field. A true 'final four' of at-larges. Only thing is, they'll be slated according to RPI."
  • Mike DeCourcy says the NCAA is doing so well making big decisions we should put them in charge of goal-line technology in soccer: "Overall, the committee's work hints at the touch of a legislative genius — the sort of person who conceives workable ideas that can widely be agreed upon as solid compromises. The format the tournament will use was not among those originally identified by Guerrero as possible solutions. He declined to identify who came up with this approach, though. He said it developed from 'a natural evolution' in the discussion. It's not as though the committee members have found a way to make calorie-free ice cream cones, but what they've conceived causes the least disruption to the fewest amount of people — and gives Turner something decent to put on TV. [...] The committee has had a heck of a year in 2010. What would make 2011 even better? Well, it'd be awesome if they pick a deserving field, seed it properly — and aren't asked to do any more work on tournament expansion."

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