Monday, April 04, 2011

Best Team?

Evansville, Milwaukee, Wright State, Milwaukee, Valparaiso, Youngstown State.

What it this you ask?

It is the list of teams that beat one of the teams playing tonight in the NCAA “Championship” game. (And you get bonus points if you know there are only three states represented there.)

It’s also a list of teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament.

It’s not quite as bad as it looks though because at least the team that beat them twice actually made the NIT tournament, and then promptly lost to Northwestern in the first round.

The other team in the championship game actually finished 9th in their league.

Yes, you read that right. Ninth … as in 9th.

It sounds really bad until you consider that their league has sixteen teams. That means they were at least better than seven teams. It also means that they finished first … in the bottom half of their league. (Spin isn’t just for politics.)

That means that the “best team” in college basketball is a contest between a team that lost to Evansville, Wright State, Valparaiso, Youngstown State, and Milwaukee (not once but twice) and a team that was worse than eight other teams in their league.

That, friends, means compelling basketball. (As I write, it is 22-19 at halftime. If you took the “under” at 100, you might be retiring tomorrow on your winnings. You might get the under at 80 the way this thing is going.)

And that, friends, is exhibit A in the case against an NCAA football championship.

Here’s why: One-and-done tournaments are great for excitement, fans, and money.

They are bad ways to determine the best teams.

I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t been drinking since lunchtime that wants to suggest that UConn and Butler are the two best teams in the country. There’s a reason why, only 72 people out of two million+ (according to one bracketeering website) had these two teams in the finals.

Part of that reason is that people don’t know anything about college basketball but still want to get in the office pool on the off chance that three minutes clicking team names might lead to that $50 gift card to Red Lobster. So 72 of them came up with Butler and UConn, though they probably can’t find either on the map, what with Butler not being a state and Conn being a small one with a long name that doesn’t fit on the map).

The other part of that reason is that people do know something about college basketball. And they knew that these two teams were not good bets.

UConn was 12-9 against tournament teams. Butler only played four tournament teams and they lost to three of them.

Oh yeah, and there are a few alumni of Butler and UConn who are unashamed homers. Which is a great thing about college sports: Your diploma comes with a free pass for stupid tournament picks.

The reality that a tournament is exciting. There’s no tomorrow. So you play differently. You don’t save anything because you can’t take it home with you.

The reality is also that tournaments highlight flukes. Anyone can get a good break from the officials (remember the Big East tournament, the Butler-Pitt ending, and a dozen others). But you won’t get thirty games worth of breaks.

Any mediocre player can get a hot hand for a game or two, and a good player might have an off night or two. But neither will have thirty.

Over the course of the season the officiating, the hot hands, the injuries, and the coaching mistakes even out. And over the course of a season is is pretty easy to see who is good and who is not.

And it doesn’t take 68 teams to sort it out. It only takes that many to make 73 bajillion dollars.

So why have a football playoff? Because fans love tournaments.

Unless your football team is number 5 in a four team playoff. Or number 9 in a eight team playoff. Or number 17 in a sixteen team playoff. Of if your team loses its conference championship because it lost to a team the conference champion didn’t have to play because of the luck of the draw.

Then you will whine about a tournament the same way you whine about the lack of a tournament.

A tournament in football will not determine the best football team in the country anymore than a tournament in basketball determines the best basketball team in the country.

The only thing it will do is cause talk radio hosts to have to come up with hours of stuff to talk about because the rankings won’t matter anymore.

Is college football perfect?

Of course not.

But all in all, it’s not that bad. And not having a tournament makes it more important to win every game. And if you win them all, chances are you will have a say in who is the national champion.

And you can spend the next seven months arguing about it. 

And the NCAA football schools can enjoy the 73 bajillion dollars they make without a tournament.

After all, it’s all about the education, you know.


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