The Ivy League, and a change in how we determine automatic bids?
Generally speaking, it’s a slow news day when the Ivy League leads off the conversation. In the days of realignment, one-and-done drama and Kobe Bryant’s upset stomach, news about the athletic programs at Harvard and Princeton is not exactly the kind of thing that shows up on ESPN’s Bottom Line.
Having said that, the decision that the Ivy League came too on Thursday afternoon is an intriguing one: instead of adopting a proposal to go to a four-team tournament to determine the league’s automatic bid, the Ivy will continue to determine their champion by the regular season.
The argument is an intriguing one.
On the one hand, sports in our country thrive on knockout tournaments. There is a reason that the only event that annually piques the interest of the nation more than the NCAA tournament is the NFL Playoffs. While the argument against the current national championship structure in college football centers on how unfair and corrupt the process is, it seems like there are just as many people of the opinion that a college football playoff should be implemented because, simply put, it would be friggin’ awesome.
That’s also why Championship Week is so great. These smaller schools have a chance to get hot and play their way into the national spotlight. Everyone loves a cinderella story. Some of the best moments in March over the last couple of years have come during Championship Week. Who can forget Anthony Johnson scoring 34 second half points to lead Montana to the Big Sky tournament title? Or what about Darius Washington missing two free throws to cost Memphis a trip to the NCAA tournament? The Big East tournament developed its reputation thanks to performances like Gerry McNamara had is 2005 or Kemba Walker had in 2011.
Who wants to see that go?
But the flip side of the argument is that a tournament is far from the fairest way to determine a league champion. The winner of a round-robin regular season, which is what the Ivy League has, is undoubtedly a better way of determining the best team in a conference. It makes every single conference game that much more important. Team’s cannot coast through the regular season knowing that they will be able to have a shot to make it all back with one, three-day hot streak.
It creates plenty of drama, as well. I’ll forever regret making the decision not to go to the Princeton-Harvard Ivy League playoff game in 2011.Maybe there is a way that we can have both. Back in March, as small-conference favorites started dropping like flies in the league tournaments -- Drexel, Oral Roberts, Iona, Middle Tennessee State -- I came up with a proposal to fix this problem:
- Expand the NCAA Tournament. Make it a 72 team tournament -- it may need to be more -- which means there will be eight play-in games.
- Give the regular season winner of every conference an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Give the winner of every conference tournament a bid to the NCAA Tournament. If you win both, you get immunity from a play-in game.
- Force all play-in games to be between either the winners of conference tournaments or bubble teams. This is where it gets tricky (and where this theory could use some outside input). The way I see it, how many play-in games there are for 16 seeds will be at the committee’s discretion. If there are upsets in a whole bunch of the low-major conferences, then the number of play-in games for a 16 seed will be higher than if the favorites win in all of them.
- Every other spot in the field gets filled by bubble teams. How many spots there are available will vary form year to year.