NCAA votes for return to sanity

The years rolled on. Each new tournament wiped more of the past away. Editors grew tired of snarky parentheticals in every mention. Resistance was less stubborn, then faded entirely.

It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. We won the victory over ourselves. We started calling the round of 64 the "second round."

And then, out of nowhere, we were rescued from this dark and terrible vision of the future by the least likely candidate: the NCAA itself.

That's right. On Monday, Nov. 17, a day that will ring in the annals of American sporting history forevermore, the NCAA announced that its men's basketball committee voted to rename the NCAA tournament's rounds of 64 and 32 the "first" and "second" rounds, respectively. The committee could do nothing else for the next five years, and we will one day look back on 2014-2019 as one of the most productive and successful eras in its history. I'm only half-joking.

For those of you in need of background: Since 2011, the NCAA has called the rounds of 64 and 32 the "second" and "third" rounds of the NCAA tournament. Why? The First Four. The NCAA expanded the event to eight teams in 2011, comprising four No. 16 seeds and four higher-profile bubble teams. The NCAA wanted to promote the event as an actual part of the tournament, one not to be missed. It also wanted to be nice to the teams involved; no one gets excited about being part of a "play-in." So it called the First Four the first round. The Round of 64 would be the second round, and so on.

In doing so, the NCAA politely asked that everyone involved in covering and talking about this event join along in the mass delusion that an event that included 11.8 percent of the field could conceivably be considered a "round." Broadcast partners complied; media outlets grumbled sarcastically but eventually gave in. Brackets were tweaked.

But it never got any less confusing. What's more, bracket competition rules never required participants to fill in the play-in games. That meant the vast majority of people who engage with the NCAA tournament weren't required to take the First Four into consideration anyway. Only in the NCAA's world, and in places where journalistic rules basically compel one to call a competition what it prefers to be called, did the change take hold.

The NCAA had its reasons. But reasons to the contrary -- like, say, marketing the ratings bonanza that is March Madness in a coherent, understandable way -- were even more pressing. The last holdouts were the people in charge. That they reversed course now is, all jokes aside, a genuinely heartening development.

The reversal will also, jokes not aside, make the world a brighter, happier, truer place. Two plus two equals four. The first round is the first round. It's enough to bring a gin-scented tear to your eye.