I’m going to make a confession here. Until about six days ago, I didn’t think the NCAA Tournament, the holy grail of American sports this side of the Super Bowl, was that big a deal.
Sure, I filled out my brackets, checked scores furiously, almost fainted along with everyone else when ESPN’s bottom line showed a crazy upset before realizing it was the women’s score and generally took part in all of the madness.
And once Texas was knocked out and my bracket busted, I moved on with my life.
Then something funny happened. Cinderella showed up in force this year. Top seeds fell by the wayside: Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Villanova, Wisconsin and the mother of them all, No. 1 Kansas.
And with Texas out in the first round (let’s just move on), I could suddenly enjoy it all as a fan with nothing to lose. What I found was everything those sappy commercials promised. Whether it was listening to Danero Thomas’s buzzer beater to knock out Vanderbilt on a crackling radio station or watching incredulously as mighty Kansas lost in the second round, those shining moments were all around.
So imagine my dismay, as a newcomer to the wonders of March Madness, to discover, or in this case remember, that the NCAA is on the precipice of pressing the restart button on its crown jewel.
Who needs 65 teams when 96 can make a few more bucks?
The reason for the expansion, which is supposedly still being debated with a final conclusion to come at some unannounced date, is pretty simple. The NCAA makes a ton of money from the tournament. The contract with CBS has a get-out clause after this year, and after two rounds filled with some incredible basketball and some even better stories, the tournament’s stock has never been higher.
Cash in while you can.
There’s just one little problem. No one outside the ivory tower wants it. No one wants to see a .500 team stumbling into the tourney and losing by 50. Since the last expansion in 1985, no 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1, but we all know it might just happen. The same can’t be said about the 96th best team in the country. Simply put, there isn’t enough talent out there to make 31 more teams competitive. There’s a reason the NIT exists, and there’s a reason no one watches it: It’s not good basketball.
We have been fighting and losing the battle for the soul of our favorite sports for a long time. With every rule change that starts the clock a little earlier to fit in more commercials in a three-hour game, with every new TV timeout and [insertnamehere].com bowl game, we lose a little more.
So now we are left with nothing but a plea to the people who are supposed to be the guardians of our sports and schools: Don’t change something that doesn’t need it. Save your revolution for college football, a sport that does need your attention.
Take it from someone who finally saw the shining moment: March Madness doesn’t need saving.