Sports public would devour more Madness

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2011 - 12:28 AM

America has two truly national sports, sports that thrive because of incredibly high television ratings, regardless of who plays for the championship any given season. Those two sports: the NFL and March Madness.

America has two truly national sports, sports that thrive because of incredibly high television ratings, regardless of who plays for the championship any given season.

Those two sports: the NFL, and March Madness.

March Madness is not to be confused with college basketball. College basketball is an increasingly regional sport of declining quality. March Madness -- the NCAA tournament -- has become, like the NFL, a sport that commands the attention of even the casual fan.

Baseball needs large markets to thrive to capture large-market shares across the nation. The NBA, too, is at the mercy of market size to aid television ratings. The NHL is a niche sport with a small but rabid following. College football has robbed itself of sustained relevance by creating a "playoff'' system in which there is only one playoff game that matters.

Only the NFL and March Madness dominate the national ratings and the national consciousness regardless of the identity of their postseason participants.

That's why the talking heads on Sunday seemed so silly.

On CBS, Charles Barkley, wearing a gray coat the size of a circus tent, looked so puffed up with anger (and cholesterol) that you feared one of those poor buttons on his jacket would pop off and hurtle into orbit.

On ESPN, Digger Phelps, looking like an extra from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," waved a pink Hi-Liter that matched his tie and complained.

What about, only he knows. There were no subtitles.

The target of their ire: The tournament selection committee putting Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth into the field ahead of the likes of Colorado, a team that finished 8-8 in its conference.

It's not that the talking heads were wrong. Colorado is a better team than UAB or VCU.

It's that the talking heads were missing the big picture. Which is: If you get left out of a 68-team bracket designed to determine a worthy national championship, you were irrelevant well before the selection committee snubbed you.

Here's another big-picture view the talking heads disregarded: The teams don't make the tournament. The bracket makes the tournament.

Whether Colorado makes the field should be irrelevant to everyone outside of Boulder. All that matters in terms of March Madness' credibility and popularity is that every team capable of winning a national title is included in the field, and that everyone you know is capable of printing off a bracket, filling it out, and suddenly caring whether Morehead State or Belmont can pull off an upset.

Because college basketball is in decline and March Madness remains a subject of national fascination, the NCAA -- the only organization in recent history run worse than Petters Warehouse Direct -- should play to its strengths.

The NCAA should turn its premier tournament into an event that consumes all of March.

Conference tournaments are a joke. They pit teams that know they already have qualified for the NCAA tournament against teams desperate to get in. In smaller conferences, they sometimes reward teams that get hot in the tournament over teams that displayed excellence all season, allowing the winner to grab the automatic -- and often only -- NCAA bid from that conference.

Scrap the week devoted to conference tournaments, and you could expand the NCAA tournament without expanding the season.

There are 346 Division I schools. It wouldn't be hard to trim that field, via play-in games or selection, to 256. Instead of disjointed and sometimes meaningless or unfair conference tournaments followed by play-in games, the NCAA tournament would simply expand by two rounds.

That would make for more upsets, more dramatic finishes, more great TV.

College basketball should sacrifice a week of its season for the good of March Madness. The people who run your office pool won't mind printing out a two-page bracket.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. •

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 79 4th Qtr 10:34
Golden State 88
Washington 82 4th Qtr 9:00
LA Lakers 80
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 3 3rd Prd 9:48
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Central Mich 53 FINAL
Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 71 FINAL
Auburn 61
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
Rutgers 0
Wyoming 44 FINAL
Utah State 56
Fresno State 47 FINAL
San Diego St 58
Nevada 62
SD Christian 54 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 79
Colorado State 50 2nd Half 15:12
Boise State 39
Temple 71 FINAL
UCF 54
Campbell 42 FINAL
Presbyterian 51
Coastal Carolina 65 FINAL
High Point 73
Gardner-Webb 49 FINAL
Radford 59
UNC-Asheville 58 FINAL
Liberty 62
Winthrop 63 FINAL
Longwood 62
Columbia International 33 FINAL
Charleston Southern 74
Tulane 63 FINAL
Houston 46
(3) Baylor 89 FINAL
TCU 67
Navy 49 FINAL
American Univ 59
Valparaiso 42 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Do you favor the plan for expanded athletic facilities at the U of M?

Weekly Question