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Every year, mid-major men's basketball teams get snubbed by the tournament selection committee in part because their schedule isn't difficult enough. Last year the leading snubee was Monmouth. This year it is Illinois State.
And every year, those teams respond that they would have a more difficult schedule if the teams from the major conferences would schedule them. The teams from the most prominent conferences won't do that because those sorts of games don't matter much if they win and hurt a great deal if they lose.
Why won't the NCAA change the system to address this issue and find a way for more crowd-pleasing smaller school to make the tournament? Surely no one believes that money isn't a driving factor, do they?
This year it wasn't just Illinois State not getting in, it was the ludicrous seed given to their primary rival, Missouri Valley champ Wichita State. The Shockers were seeded a ridiculous 10th despite a ton of tournament success the last five years and another great season this year. Illinois State's exclusion from the tournament sucked. Wichita State's seed is indefensible.
There is only one obvious conclusion: this sucker is rigged to ensure power conference teams populate all the spots in the Final Four year after year after year.
That happens despite the fact that everyone loves an underdog. Everyone but the people with stakes in the most famous teams that is.
Sports fans want a real Cinderella to make it to the Final Four. The money programs (the ones with the highest profit margins) make sure that virtually never happens by doing things like making it almost impossible for Wichita State to win the four in a row it would take to do so.
The treatment of the Missouri Valley Conference is just the latest outrage. And it pales in comparison to the tried-and-true fact that the stars of this multibillion dollar enterprise, the ones who provide all the entertainment (despite all of the attention the idiot commentators give to coaches rather than to players) and take all the risks, receive no compensation other than free classes.
I would say that isn't exactly an American, capitalist, free-market system, but obviously the most wealthy American citizens only support capitalist, free-market systems when they can ensure that they will stay wealthy. So I'm not holding out hope that the people who profess to care about that sort of thing will intervene here.
When I was in college, I twice traveled from Philadelphia to my grandparents' home in suburban D.C. for Spring Break. It was nice to see my family, see the variety of birds that visited the bird-feeder in the backyard, take walks with my granddad and enjoy precisely prepared sandwiches for lunch and classics for dinner.
But the main reason I went down there was that the tournament started during the second weekend of the break and my grandparents didn't mind if I settled in at noon on Thursday and then again Friday and watched first-round game after game after game until midnight.
Back then, ESPN showed live first-round games throughout the day and evening and then from midnight to noon showed the tape-delayed games they hadn't been able to broadcast live. Then on Saturday and Sunday I watched most of the second-rounders.
In my 20s, I spent many a first-round afternoon into early evening at Hi-Tops when it used to be on Sheffield. A group of us would watch the games with one eye while keeping the other on our brackets, but the best times were always when a Cinderella rose up and knocked off a favorite. Those were some great times but I can barely remember them now.
These days the big college basketball fan in my house is my almost 18-year-old son. A few years ago he adopted Northwestern as his favorite program (his parents went to Haverford and Wesleyan, so he had to go elsewhere) so this spring has been especially fun most of the time (less so when Northwestern was dropping games to teams like Illinois, but whatever).
When Northwestern wins, he is happy of course. So I'll be rooting for Northwestern in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
But the main thing I am rooting for is for some team to finally step up and say, you know what, this is ridiculous. Everyone is getting rich off this stuff except for the players. Someone needs to take a stand, so we will go ahead and do it and refuse to play our game unless we get some assurances that responsible people will at least begin a process leading to a better way to seed the tournament and compensate players.
I cannot resist a longshot.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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