Madness misplaced

Everybody knows this is my favorite time of year, because of the NCAA tournament, but that doesn't mean that I'm not able to tolerate those who aren't obsessed. Mark Starr writing for Newsweek expresses that he just doesn't care for the format because it invalidates the regular season. I can understand the rationale of those who just don't get it, of course, and even lament those who wish they could get excited, but don't. But as Mr. Starr goes on to laud the college football playoff system (you know, the BCS) favorably to March Madness, I think his article could stand a few counterpoints.

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.
In fact, if it were a religious holiday, I would avoid it like I do all others! As for its pedigree, I acknowledge that it hasn't been around as long as these religions, just as I acknowledge huge numbers of people haven't been murdered in the name of the NCAA tournament. Mr. Starr starts to slip up when he harps about the NIT:
    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?)
Admittedly, the NIT has run its course as a useful tournament. The Penn State managed to make the NIT, and I went to a bar to watch the opening round game against Rutgers, but I couldn't shake the feeling of impotence and pointlessness of caring about the game. Of course, the odds of anyone doing away with the NIT are nil, since it still manages to generate money. However, once you start comparing to the college football playoff system, this argument starts to sound hypocritical. We had, what, 30 bowl games last year? The Meineke Car Care Bowl? How about a classic like the MPC Computers Bowl? And who could forget the tradition of the San Diego County Credit Union Bowl? While basketball is trying to do the best they can with their outdated tournament, football continues to create new corporate bowls to rake in more cash. And yet, they still can't get more than two teams to play in their 'playoffs'. Here's more from Mr. Starr:
    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.
Flawed? It sucks! Its only claim is that once every few years, like a blind squirrel, it finds a nut. This was the first year in a while that there were only two teams left undefeated. If that had not happened, or if another team had won one more (say, Penn State), we again wouldn't have had a championship game. But it's easy to bust on the BCS, so I'll stop. Let's focus on those 'top team that have a shot at making the Final Four'. You mean like George Mason? Wichita St? Bradley? All THOSE teams that nearly got left out, who all have a legitimate shot at the Final Four? And what about those elite teams, like Duke and UConn? How did they get to that position of invulerability? By winning tons of, yes, regular season games. In truth, you have to do either really well in the regular season, or win your post-season tournament to get into the Dance, but neither is irrelevant. Not like Auburn going undefeated in the football regular and post season a year ago and being locked out of a championship bid because there is no playoff system.

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.
You call it suspense, I call it frustration, especially having gone to a school that was locked out of a national championship game when it when undefeated 3 times. Two of those were back-to-back. Standard? That standard is arbitrary, and my patience has now worn thin with this equally thin opinion. As for the suspense, I won't bore you with a list of games from the first two rounds that were downright riveting, if you are a fan. And I guess that's what it comes down to after all. Mr. Starr is not a fan of college basketball. I would just respect that opinion more if he'd write that statement as his entire article than trying to compare an annually ridiculed 'playoff system' to a system that crowns a national champion every single try.

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