NCAA's "First Four'' Round Needs To Be Changed

NCAA's Play-in Round is unfair to losers--and winners

The NCAA tournament has just begun and it has already provided us with magic moments that will continue to be created for the next three weeks.

But what needs to be examined and changed is the "First Four''' play-in round the NCAA holds in Dayton each year.

The setup was a compromise to squeeze four extra teams into what is now a 68-team field.

Two games are played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with the winners then advancing to the main bracket.

It sounds nice and has provided some dramatic highlights, but it is unfair to both of this year's winners: No. 16 seed North Dakota State and Fairleigh Dickinson and No. 11 seeds Belmont and Arizona State

Here's why.

When the field is announced on Sunday night, the only real suspense involves the four at-large qualifiers who are seeded either 11th or 12th in the bracket and the four No.16 seeds who will face off for two openings--in the REAL tournament.

Think I'm kidding?

None of the results in the games on Tuesday and Wednesday affected the millions of brackets which are filled out each year.

It didn't matter that FDU beat Prairie View or Belmont beat Temple or that North Dakota State beat North Carolina Central or that Arizona State beat St. John's.

The results don't count in the big picture of the NCAA tournament.

Those winners were simply slotted into the brackets as the tournament began on Thursday.

But it goes beyond that.

Part of making the tournament field for the mid majors and first-or- second time participants is the tournament experience.

At eight sites around the country, eight teams gather in a big time college basketball atmosphere. There are crowds and press conferences and a feeling that you are part of something special.

For the four survivors of the play-In games in Dayton, not so much.

Take Belmont, for example.

The Ohio Valley Conference regular season champs, who were a surprise at-large entry in many brackets, won their first-ever NCAA tournament game by beating Temple on Tuesday night.

Their reward?

Get on a plane after the game, fly to Jacksonville, check into their hotel, sleep a few hours, practice and attend press conferences, have dinner, go to bed and get ready to play on Thursday.

There was almost no time to savor their experience or prepare leisurely for the game the way No. 6 seed Maryland, which probably flew to Jacksonville on Tuesday morning, relaxed Tuesday night and then dealt with the pre-game preps on Wednesday and Thursday.

The same helter-skelter arrangement confronted FDU, Arizona State and North Dakota State.

Dayton is a fine site for the play-in games. The crowds are big, the support is obvious and it is a college basketball town.

But there is a way to make it better and more enjoyable for everyone.

Play all four games on Tuesday, make it an official first-round site, with the results counting in the brackets. Make it part of the NCAA bracket protocol that the Tuesday night winners must be part of the Friday-Sunday regionals, rather than Thursday-Saturday (It can be done).​

For the eight first-round participants it will be a whirlwind week: Find out you are in the field on Sunday, fly to Dayton that night, take part in the pre-game media events on Monday, play the games on Tuesday. The winners fly to their next round Tuesday night. Wednesday becomes the day to savor and soak in the experience before games on Thursday.

Hectic, but fun, not an in and out "laundry'' experience.

Even the losers will have an ""NCAA moment'' they can remember, rather than be a mere footnote in the tournament.

***

First few days of March Madness have already provided some dramatic moments. Sad to see Temple coach Fran Dunphy retire following the Owls loss to Belmont. The city of Philadelphia took a hit with Dunphy's retirement, and Saint Joseph's firing long time coach Phil Martelli, another class act.

Martelli WAS Saint Joe's basketball and had devoted 34 years of his life to Hawk Heaven. He deserved to go out on his own terms.

***

Most intriguing first-round matchup was created with Arizona State's win over St. John's on Wednesday. ASU coach (and Jersey guy) Bobby Hurley came to ASU from Buffalo, where he also hired current Buffalo coach Nate Oats as an assistant coach, who had been coaching high school basketball in the Detroit area.

***

Belmont justified its at-large selection with a nice win over Temple, but now must move up in class by dealing with Big Ten entry Maryland in what looks like a winnable game...St. John's played like the yo-yo team it has been all season, looking horrible in the first 35 minutes and then putting together a run in which the Red Storm looked like the Big East team which won its first 12 games of the season, only to fall behind again and lose.

***

Most intriguing matchups for Thursday: LSU, mired in controversy, but talented enough to get to the Final Four, takes on Ivy League champion Yale, No. 12 Northeastern vs. No. 5 Kansas (12 vs. 5 round is upset central), Big East tournament finalist Seton Hall, which brawled its way through the Big East tournament before losing to Villanova, taking on Southern Conference champion Wofford, another team having a Cinderella season.​

Comments (3)
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Chris Dufresne
Chris Dufresne

Editor

I knew this was a college story because I didn't see the word "school, homework or academics" in the entire thread.

oszonenj
oszonenj

I would propose expanding the tournament to automatically include the regular season and conference tournament champion. Then play enough games Tuesday, Wednesday to get down to 64. Makes the season mean something and the conference tournaments still offer hope

Herb Gould
Herb Gould

Editor

Sorry, Blau. They are play-in games. If you count them, then you have to put an asterisk on UMBC's win. A 16 beating a 16 doesn't mean a 16 has won a tournament game. Better yet, let's go back to a 64-team field, with maybe some guarantees that smaller conferences will get their share of at-large bids. You're the guy who always rails about too many bowl games. How about too many NCAA tournament teams?



Mark Blaudschun
EditorMark Blaudschun
Mark Blaudschun
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Mark Blaudschun
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Mark Blaudschun
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