Thursday, March 18, 2010

construction update, and one of the better days in sports...

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still a ways off in the horizon. Our house remodel continues and while our newest rooms in back are relatively done and habitable, the basement is now in the process of remodel. When it's done, it's simply going to be amazing, and last night was the first night that I could really see the framework of the changes for real. I understand all of the things that are being added, but last night, the skeleton was more apparent and I could visually see the direction it was going. It makes the temporary inconveniences, like no water at points, exhaust smells, and random tools lying about seem like nothing now that I can see the light.
Granted, my wife has had to live it far more closely that I've had to because I can escape to the relative sanity of my office, but needless to say, we're all happy to see the final pieces go in place. It makes the getting up at 7 AM each morning worth it, as we need to be up in time to let the crew in for their tasks for the day. I'm impressed with the hard work and craftsmanship they've done so far, and for those of you interested, you'll be able to get a full tour when things are finished. And yes, the housewarming is going to be pretty epic.
And today was a good day to be out of the house because it's one of my favorite days of sports. I put opening day of baseball on the top of my list of favorite days of sports, because it represents spring time and the start of better weather. Ok, in many years, there is still plenty of winter weather about and plenty of early spring baseball ends up being played in snow or misty rain. But unlike other sports, baseball for many represents the end of winter, and so people immediately start thinking of summer vacations and the like. Football gets rolling in late summer when the weather is still nice, and weather doesn't affect pro basketball or hockey. I do get the same charge when the English Premiership and the Timbers gets rolling, but that's my soccer fan part coming out, and there isn't a true opening day like there is with baseball.
But baseball's opening day is fast being replaced with the opening weekend of the NCAA college basketball tournament, or as many people know it as the land of brackets. For 3 weeks, college basketball dominates the airwaves with back to back games that showcase amazing upsets, unknown teams from all over, great individual play, and the ultimate concept of win to stay in. During the first 4 days, the competition takes 64 teams and whittles it down to a sweet 16 in some of the best moments of sports, because it's still relatively pure. The tournament directors put together a relatively even bracket and let the dice roll. Sometimes, the higher seeds win while other times, the cinderella team lives to fight another day.
My alma mater, Gonzaga, has become a household name not because I attended there, but because of their antics in the tournament. They fast became the sweetheart school from the initial thoughts of "where the heck is Spokane?" and "how do you pronounce it" after breaking up a few brackets because of their success, but then again, Santa Clara made a name for itself by upsetting Arizona, George Mason made the Final Four unexpectedly, and Villanova and N.C. State won tournaments way back when nobody expected it. Even the non sports fans can watch and be drawn into the drama, even participating in one of the simplest competitions in sports, completing a bracket.
There's no real secret in completing a bracket and winning, because winning a competition for the most part is pure blind luck. I've seen college basketball experts get blown out in the first weekend for not picking the right upsets while complete novices win the prize by choosing the teams based on names or colors. That's the beauty of this, because the upsets are unscripted and unknown as well as plenty of close games and dramatic moments. And because there are 32 games in two days followed by 16 games the following two days, there's plenty of chances to either look good or stupid at any given point. I have yet to meet anyone that has been able to pick things consistently year by year. Most of it is because of turnover in college basketball in players and coaches, but there's also the unknown factor of who will be this year's cinderella story. I'm sure there will be many people who say they picked the big upsets for this season already, but the magic of the tournament is that the slipper can fall off at any point. The cinderella could fall on bad luck in the very next game, which makes it interesting and compelling to watch.
I'm a little upset that the NCAA is thinking about tinkering with the tournament, because I think it's very good the way it is. It's simplicity in the setup, and it's easy for even the casual fan to follow along. But the NCAA doesn't care about that, they simply follow the dollar signs and want to generate attention however they can. Adding more teams means more money, and the NCAA is obviously oblivious to what the real fans want. They've let the BCS mess in football carry on far too long because while the fans want a playoff, the fans are watching the games anyway and everybody involved is making money so there's no incentive for change. And now the simplicity of the tournament is at risk because there's additional money to be made.
If things needed to be changed, I'd throw out a couple of ideas:
  • I don't like the single play in game so the field is 65, so replace it with more play in games. Seed 18 teams in each region, and have the final four seeds play each other on Tuesday/Wednesday in the tournament sites for the right to advance. Seed 15 plays 18 and 16 plays 17, and the winners get seeds 1 and 2.
  • This still leaves the initial tournament at 64 teams starting on the first Thursday and keeps things on schedule. Right now, 3 weeks is a bit long for the tournament, and if you do anything else, you run the risk of playing through the middle part of April.
  • Keep the games in March. Work with the conferences to get their tournaments done in late February so that March is what it's for, tournament basketball. Even if you did need a fourth weekend for play in games, you could still do it through March and it's done by end of March.
  • Finally, if you win the conference berth to get into the tournament, you avoid having to play in the play in game. This is probably the most controversial thing I'm suggesting, but seriously, having a team win their way into the tournament with the automatic berth only to be told you have to play another game just to get into the tournament just penalizes the smaller conferences. The play in games should be the middle fringe teams in the bigger conferences for the right to get into the tournament. You might get a few more upsets, and more compelling opening round games.

But I don't expect this to be done, because the NCAA isn't going to do what is sensible here. They're going to listen to the TV and advertising money, and take what is already a wonderfully compelling competition and turn it into an unwieldy mess. The NFL plays one game to determine a champion, and until recently, the games haven't been compelling but now, they are spectacles of sports. Most other sports use long series to determine a winner, which while somewhat more fair that a one game title, it does lend itself to a champion being crowned because they handled the number of games better than their opponents. Seriously, the NBA takes 2 and a half months to determine a title, and I can't think of a compelling reason why.


If the NCAA cared, they'd watch what happened this weekend, they'd view the crowds at sports bars and the cubicle people hiding in their cubes to get scores and realize they have a good thing going already. The money might be compelling, but you have the perfect system now and there's no reason to tinker with it. And thinking that it needs to be changed means that the almighty dollar is far more important that the drama and the competition of sport.

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