Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Problem With the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and How to Fix It

In the interest of driving up attendance—and by extension making the tournament financially viable—many first- and second-round games in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament have long been played on the home courts of member schools. Until recently the top four seeds in each region hosted opening round games. Now hosting does not necessarily depend on seeding, and several lower seeded teams have hosted higher seeded opponents.

The purpose of seeding is to reward the teams that had the best seasons. Thus I find it unfair when an 8 seed (i.e. Middle Tennessee State) and a 1 seed (i.e. Duke) have to play a road game against a 9 seed (i.e. Michigan State) or when a 2 seed (i.e. Auburn) has to play a road game against a 7 seed (i.e. Rutgers). One could argue that Michigan State's one-point victory over MTSU would not have happened if the teams had met at a neutral site or that State would have upset Duke so easily if the game had not been played on the Spartans' home court. (Rutgers may have upset Auburn regardless.) In all, true home teams have gone 12–4 in this year's tournament; lower seeded teams playing in their gym are 4–3.

I understand the need to attract crowds, but I would prefer that tournament games be played on neutral sites or (at the very least) that lower seeds not host higher seeded opponents. So here's my solution: true regionals. Currently, the men's and women's tournament fields are divided into four regions that are named for the sites in which third- and fourth-round games are played. The teams playing in each region may be from any part of the country, and opening round games in the Midwest Region are not necessarily played in the Midwest. I would suggest dividing tournament teams into actual geographic regions, where teams in the southeast would play games in the southeast, teams on the west coast would play games on the west coast, and so on.

More specifically, I would divide the tournament into eight, eight-team regions. Each region would include four conference winners and four at-large teams. (Next year, when the Great West Conference begins play, there will be 32 conferences—exactly four per eight-team region.) As much as possible teams would be assigned to geographically appropriate regions. For example, the Big Ten, MAC, Missouri Valley, and Horizon League winners might be assigned to one region with four at-large teams from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, or Ohio. This year that region might include Ohio State (Big Ten), Ball State (MAC), Evansville (MVC), Green Bay (Horizon), Purdue, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and DePaul. Representatives of the four conferences would determine a site (or sites) for regional games. Since the participating schools are so close to one another, finding neutral sites that would make travel easy for students and fans of all the schools should be no trouble. Attendance figures would go up and participating schools would save money on travel; so true regionals would make the tourney much more economically viable.

I'll be writing this up and sending it to Indianapolis.


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