Myths of the Big East's double-bye

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
5:20
PM ET
Last week, the Big East announced that it wouldn't be changing its conference tournament's double-bye format. This format, as you know, is profoundly weird. Top-seeded teams wait for two days as the rest of the field plays itself out, and the imbalance in the schedule -- top teams get extra rest, but also frequently complain of rust -- is less than ideal.

It's weirder when you consider the Big East's alternative: A tidy 16-team, single-elimination bracket. And it's even weirder when you consider the Big East decided to keep the current format despite a unanimous vote in favor of a change by the conference's head basketball coaches. If the league's top programs don't want those extra byes, why force the issue? Just make the tournament simple and give everybody what they want. There. Done.

As baffling as it is, though, some of the reasons in favor of the change -- many of them originating from coaches -- don't really hold water. To this point, read FanHouse's Ray Holloman, who discusses the vagaries of the Big East's tournament format in a long post here. Ray's overriding point is simple: The reason the Big East's best teams lose in the quarterfinals is not scheduling. It's because the Big East's top eight teams are so good.
And yes, there have been upsets. In the first two seasons of the double-bye (and the bizarre tiered bracket that looks like Picasso did the seeding while on a bender), the top four teams in the Big East are an uninspiring 3-5 in the quarterfinals.

The only problem? In the 16-team Big East, top seeds have always had a hell of a time in the quarterfinals, no matter the setup. Since 2006, the league's top four teams are 9-11, markedly the worst record among BCS leagues using a first-round bye system. The ACC top four seed's are 14-6 since 2006, the Big Ten is 11-9 and the Big 12 is 14-6 as well. (We discarded the SEC entirely. The only thing less sensical than the Big East's bracket-by-Legos is the SEC's divisional seeding when the West is, year in and year out, its own little mid-major subdivision).

Holloman provides many other data points -- pretty much everything you could want to know about the Big East tournament is in there somewhere -- but the main point rings true. It also dovetails nicely with the fact that, despite some coaches' protests, the double-bye shouldn't factor heavily into how teams perform. The common complaint is that a No. 1 seed's off days make it rusty, while inferior teams benefit from loose legs and conference tournament experience. That sort of stuff might be true, but it's pretty nebulous, and anyway, you could argue the exact opposite. Maybe the added days off are good for tired teams. Maybe the rust is worth the rest. And so on.

In any case, would it make more sense for the Big East to get rid of the double-bye? Yes. Would it make the tournament bracket less unwieldy? Absolutely. Should the Big East listen to its coaches and do so? By all means. But that doesn't mean top teams are going to be any better when the change is made. It's something to keep an eye on, at least.
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