Ironically, Mr. Starr starts off strong with his strongest point:
- I’m not looking to burst anybody’s bubble (or bubble team) here. But March Madness isn’t a religious holiday with a pedigree to rival Christmas, Passover or Ramadan.
- Still, with 65 in the NCAA and another 40 in the NCAA-owned NIT tournament, the college basketball postseason now reflects that growing instinct in this country to affirm every performance and every team’s season. It seems to mimic that youth soccer coach telling his 8-year-olds: "Really great job everyone. You all did so swell that we can’t possibly choose between you for the awards. So everybody is taking a trophy home."
That certainly seems to be the prevailing ethic. How else to explain the anger among fans that some mediocre teams like the University of Michigan and University of Cincinnati were bypassed for The Big Dance? No team that doesn’t play .500 ball in its own conference—both finished 8-8 and in seventh and eighth place, respectively—should have a grievance about the selection process. They’re lucky to have the NIT tournament as a fallback and to be dancing anywhere this spring other than at the school hop. (You’re kidding me. They don’t call it a hop any more?)
- In fact, the NCAA "Big Dance" approach to basketball has evolved into pretty much the antithesis of its college football Bowl Championship Series. Though the latter is certainly flawed, it at least puts a premium on the regular season and conference playoffs. Basketball makes the regular season and even the conference tournaments largely irrelevant, at least for those top teams that have a shot at making it to the Final Four in Indianapolis on April 1. Connecticut gets upset in the opening round of the Big East tournament. So what? The only apparent consequence is what bracket it lands in with its No. 1 seed.
Mr. Starr, yes, prefers the college system. No doubt about it:
- As a result, I find college football and its championship a far more compelling entertainment than I do the modern NCAA basketball championship. In football, any misstep during the long season can knock you out of contention and, as Auburn learned, even perfect may not be good enough. By adhering to that standard, it succeeds in maintaining genuine suspense over the entire season. College basketball suspense is only beginning now and doesn’t really ratchet up until the pretenders have been cast aside in the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight.