OK, not everyone. Some folks don't seem to mind. I'm one of them. Sure, expansion was silly, and no solution, no matter how reasonable or politically satisfactory, was ever going to be as good as just leaving the tournament the way it was. But since that was never going to happen, sometimes you have to take life's lemons and paint them gold. Things could be worse.
Still, one of the perils of finding a solution that could make most people happy is running the risk of making everybody angry. The NCAA seems to have avoided that fate, but there are plenty of perturbed constituents out there. Potential at-large teams think it's unfair two No. 16 seeds get to automatically make the tournament's second round even though they're ranked lower than the at-larges. At-large schools from non-major conferences are worried that the NCAA will favor big programs with name recognition for the "First Four" marketing extravaganza. And the tiniest mid-majors, those fighting for No. 16 seeds, are faced with the prospect of getting stuck in play-in games year after year, which ruins the shiny, dreamy, we-could-do-this recruiting luster of the NCAA tournament altogether.
SI's Andy Glockner sums up this chorus of discontent in a column today. Plenty of people are whining about the expansion scenario, but perhaps the most interesting of Glocker's aggrieved parties is the SWAC. Yes, the SWAC.
The SWAC is consistently college basketball's worst conference; last year, it went 7-87 in non-league Division I play. Its teams play tons of guarantee games -- in which a major program pays a money-starved mid-major to come to town in November and receive a ritual beating -- and it's hard to stack up wins or improve your RPI when you're reliant on such games just to survive. If this keeps up as the tournament changes to a new format, the SWAC conference champion will almost certainly play in the No. 16-seed play-in games nearly every year.
And here's the really interesting thing: Maybe that's not so bad! From Glockner:
One interesting byproduct of the play-in game is that it counts as a full NCAA tournament game, which means a win adds to the conference's coffers. Arkansas-Pine Bluff's victory over Winthrop in last season's game netted each SWAC school an additional $22,000 (approximately) a year for each of the next six seasons. (Each NCAA tournament win share equals six years of payment.) Weirdly, part of the SWAC's rebuilding strategy could actually include trying to improve while staying in the play-in games to collect wins and more NCAA revenues, which could allow a decrease in guarantee games.
[SWAC commissioner Duer] Sharp didn't sound interested in that plan of attack, and he said not having a solo play -in game stage is a step back. "For us, our intent is to get out of it," he said. "Our intent is to improve our RPI so that we're not part of this. Until we do that? Yeah, it does hurt a bit. It was always better when you know you're the only game on and you have the national audience."
If you're the SWAC, sure, you want to be a part of the "real" NCAA tournament. You don't want to be marginalized into playing two days before the tournament really swings into gear. You want to be one of the big boys. You want to play on Thursday. Understandable.
But the play-in games still count financially, and if stacking up play-in wins means the SWAC can slowly phase out those ugly early-season guarantee games, maybe there are worse things in the world than another No. 16-seed play-in game, you know? Actually, that goes for any conference with teams in the play-in -- er, opening -- round: Yes, you'd like to be in the tourney proper. If you're a mid-major on the fringe, you shouldn't have lost that close game at home to the 15-17 team in your conference. If you're a major-conference at-large, you shouldn't have finished 9-7 in conference. And yet you're still getting paid, you're still on TV, and you're still competing, same as everyone else. Prove you belong. That simple.
Expansion isn't perfect. But if that's the final calculus, I'm cool with it.