The NCAA’s Deep-Seeded Issues

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The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is arguably both the best event in collegiate athletics, and also perhaps the most controversial. In the eye of the storm is the NCAA Selection Committee, individuals tasked with selecting the best 68 teams in the country and placing them, based on track record, in seeds ranging from 1 to 16.

Earlier this month, the selection committee made a necessary move to rectify some of the mistakes for which it has come under fire in the past by revisiting its seeding rules. Specifically, the committee adjusted its policies to adhere closer to the “true” seeds of teams when creating the bracket.

In the past, teams have been altered one, or even two seeds away from their true ranking. This was done to accommodate restrictions that do not allow for certain matchups to take place in certain rounds of the tournament based on how many times the teams met during the regualr season.

It is understandably confusing at first glance, since the rules are largely determined by circumstance. But what is not confusing are the consequences of the seed tampering, and we need look no further for evidence of that than the egregiously under-seeded #12 Oregon Ducks from 2013.

It was an obvious mistake. Oregon was an Associated Press Top 25 team at the time, and the Committee placed it as a #12 seed in order to make the bracket configure to the rules discussed above, now under construction. The Committee was made to look foolish for the decision as a strong Oregon side “upset” both #5 Oklahoma State and the #4 St. Louis.

Going forward, teams will be seeded more according to their rank and accomplishments during the season, rather than for logistical, geographical, or qualitative reasons, which should ease public criticism. But what will it really solve? The answer is probably as complicated as the selection process itself.

First, many agree that the relaxation of the seeding criteria bandages issues that have plagued the selection process in the past. Tournaments will be fairer as teams will be seeded more accurately. This is certainly a good thing for the selection process, and NCAA basketball as a whole.

But the reality — and it’s something not many acknowledge — is that the committee faces an almost impossible job to begin with. Not only are they saddled with the task of meticulously assessing hundreds of teams and thousands of games, but also they are expected to do it under an enormous time crunch. Conference tournament games conclude the SAME DAY as Selection Sunday. Thus, the eligible field is only fully set hours before the Committee announces the bracket. It is a testament to the difficulty of the mission, especially if the final games' results weigh heavily on the outcome of the bracket.

Oh, and it has to be perfect. In no other event are there millions of backseat drivers and Monday morning quarterbacks scrutinizing each decision like the sports world does once the brackets are released.

But the Committee’s changes have so far flown under the radar given the slew of bad press directed at the NCAA recently. True, lately the NCAA has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The system, if it isn’t broken, is not functioning optimally. From the Ed O'Bannon case that challenges the core of the NCAA’s definition of the collegiate athlete, to the apparent hypocrisy exposed by Jay Bilas earlier this month, the NCAA has a lot of issues.

I also agree with much of the criticisms levied against the Association; the NCAA is far from infallible. They should be scrutinized for their issues, and the public acts as an oversight function in this regard.

But I also believe the NCAA deserves a fair shake, and they should receive credit where credit is due. The transition to bigger conferences necesitates this regulatory change. More teams per conference means more teams entering the field will have already played each other during the regular season, which could have conflicted with the pre-exisiting guidelines had it not been addressed.

In instances like this one, the committee should be applauded for having the foresight to rectify its problematic selection guidelines to create fairer tournaments in the future, which is all sports fans have ever wanted from March Madness. Besides, regardless of these improvements, all of you in the peanut gallery (you know who you are) will be yelling at the TV on Selection Sunday if your favorite team isn’t given a good draw. So why not give them proper respect for improving? Here, here NCAA, good decision.

By: Colburn Trutter
Twitter: @ColburnTrutter

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