The NCAA knows what's best for you. Ever wonder what type of sticker is permitted on the back of an envelope? The folks in Indy have you covered. What about whether it's acceptable to wash a car with a university hose? Is a bagel a snack or meal?. The NCAA was on top of those, too.
So it's no surprise that when it comes to the NCAA's most visible task -- building the bracket for a tournament that earns roughly 90 percent of the organization's annual revenue -- the governing body of college sports is typically all-knowing. But -- brace yourself for this one -- the NCAA's answers might not be completely correct.
"[It's] not crazy, but creative. I wouldn't be against it. It's a good thing to propose and consider." La Salle coach John Giannini
Forget about which teams get into the field of 68 and which are left out, or even the order in which they are seeded. At least that process involves subjective analysis. Anyone who has ever participated in a snake-style fantasy draft knows what to do next: For each seed line, slot the teams in order of rank, then reverse directions for the next round. In other words, the best No. 1 seed should get the worst No. 2 seed in its region, then the best No. 3 seed and the worst No. 4 seed. And so forth. It's not a difficult concept.
Well, unless you're a member of the tournament selection committee.
While the NCAA publishes a "true seed" list that ranks all 68 teams, it does not abide by a so-called S curve. Instead, in the committee room, geography trumps competitive balance. While teams are slotted into the bracket in the order of their true seeds, their regional placement is determined by proximity to home ahead of relative strength. In other words, the top No. 2 seed will not necessarily be placed with the worst No. 1 seed, but will instead end up in the region closest to home -- even if the best No. 1 seed already resides there.
According to David Worlock, the media coordinator for the men's basketball championship, that prioritization of geography "comes from feedback that we've received from coaches that they don't want to have to travel further." Certain coaches surely would choose a tougher Elite Eight opponent if it meant playing 500 miles closer to home. But not all would. So why is the committee deciding for them? Because, as we've established, that's what the NCAA does.
Clearly, then, it's time for change -- a change so dramatically brilliant that it could turn Selection Sunday into an all-day bracket-thon that demolishes ratings records and couch springs. It's time to usher in an age of individual responsibility. Simply put, each team should choose its own slot in the bracket.
It's an idea that some of us have kicked around over beers or group chats for years, and pops up in different places every now and then. Last March, The Cauldron's Andy Glockner even attempted his own mock selection process over Twitter. But now it's time to take the concept to the masses. Here's how it would work:
The selection committee would remain responsible for choosing the 68 teams that belong in the field and their true seed order. After that, the power would shift to the coaches. One by one, each team would pick its preferred seed and region, allowing each coach to prioritize the factors that matter most to his team, be that location, seed line, matchups or fear of mascots. The result would be a live, televised draft that not only would lead to a more balanced bracket, but would also increase the intensity of the matchups to come, given that teams will literally get what they ask for in terms of an opponent.
Let's say, for instance, that the selection committee's true seed list were identical to Joe Lunardi's current S curve. In that scenario, Kentucky would pick first, and would most likely choose the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. Virginia would gobble up the top spot in the East and Duke would take the South. Then Villanova would be on the clock. Maybe the Wildcats would take the last No. 1 seed and head to the West region. Or maybe they'd prefer to be the No. 2 in Virginia's bracket, stay close to home, and avoid a potential regional final meeting against Arizona in Los Angeles. The point is, that should be the Wildcats' choice, not the committee's.
The same goes for the next line of seeds. Suppose Villanova were to take the No. 1 seed in the West. Wisconsin would be up next, and might choose to head south for a rematch against Duke. Arizona would jump at the chance to stay in the West and take that No. 2 seed, and Gonzaga would board a cross-country flight for the right to be Virginia's No. 2. That would leave Kansas in a fascinating scenario. Would the Jayhawks be willing to face Kentucky again after getting annihilated in the Champions Classic? Or might they rather take a No. 3 seed in a different region? For that matter, how many teams might pass on Kentucky and pick a lesser seed elsewhere? They would have earned that choice by virtue of their performance this season. It's fun and fair.
Well, to some people it would be. Coaches, who enjoy looking more than 40 minutes ahead about as much as they relish a migraine, would abhor the type of planning -- and pressure -- required by a bracket draft. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey surely spoke for many of his brethren when he was asked about this proposal via text message, responding that he'd "rather stay out" of the bracket-building process.
But maybe there are more adventurous coaches out there than we realize. La Salle's John Giannini, for instance, wrote back that it's "not crazy, but creative. I wouldn't be against it. It's a good thing to propose and consider."
In fact, Giannini was so intrigued that unsolicited, he began attempting to work through some of the logistical issues the bracket draft would present. For instance, conference tournaments would have to conclude on Saturday and the committee would have to finish its work late Saturday night to enable Sunday's draft, which could last several hours.
For what it's worth, Worlock says the committee would love to operate without games on Sunday. And he seemed legitimately intrigued by this system. "No, that's never been discussed," he said with a chuckle. "It will now."
This proposal is far from a finished product. There are several inherent flaws. Most critically, top seeds may not gain as much of an advantage as they deserve because by virtue of choosing their spots first, they enter the bracket blindly, while the teams that follow actually can pick desirable matchups. But there are ways to fix that issue, as well as others:
Glockner went with a version of his method in his mock draft last March. Essentially, a predetermined number of teams -- perhaps just the No. 1 seeds, or maybe as many as the top four seeds in each region -- would be allowed to "veto" one team's placement in the bracket. Restricting the veto to first- or second-round opponents would keep the best teams from messing with the bracket too heavily, while protecting themselves against teams uniquely skilled to challenge them in an early game.
For instance, Georgetown split a pair of games with Villanova this season, and perhaps the Hoyas like their odds in a third meeting. So maybe the Hoyas would choose the No. 8 seed in Villanova's region, with the hope of then inheriting Nova's top-seeded path to the Final Four. Wildcats coach Jay Wright could thwart that plan by using his veto. Could you imagine the heat that scenario would add to the rivalry? Would Georgetown fans ever let their Villanova counterparts forget the time they ducked the Hoyas in the tournament? Now that's drama.
The Top-Seed Twist
An alternate solution would involve starting the selection process with the No. 2 seeds and continuing all the way through the 16-seeds. Only then would the No. 1 seeds get in on the action, as they would choose their region with a full slate of opponents. Imagine teams attempting to pick the right spot in the bracket while wondering whether Kentucky might ultimately end up in their region. Pass the Tums.
We could slap all sorts of other constraints on the field, too. For instance, the First Four participants could be set ahead of time by the committee. Conference foes could be prohibited from facing each other in the First Four and round of 64, as is the case under the current system. And an additional measure could be implemented to protect the best teams. For instance, there might a feisty coach or two out there who might eschew an 8- or 9-seed to take an immediate shot at a top dog. That obviously wouldn't be fair to a No. 1 seed, so we can protect the best teams by restricting coaches from choosing a spot in the bracket more than three seeds away from their natural seed line. In other words, the 32nd-ranked team (naturally an 8-seed), couldn't pick a slot worse than a No. 11 seed.
Such sweeping change inevitably would lead to unintended consequences. But thoughtful consideration of those issues should always lead to reasonable answers. For once, we don't have to leave it up to the NCAA to figure out the right ones.
Think you can improve the concept of an NCAA tournament draft? Issue your thoughts below, or on Twitter @jordanbrenner.