Masin-Moyer: By giving underdogs opportunities, March Madness proves itself superior
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Shortly after it completed one of the greatest upsets in American sporting history, the Univeristy of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) — who became the first 16-seed to upset their top-seeded opponent in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history — received a tweet from an unlikely supporter.
Sure, there’d been some impressive tweets directed at UMBC Athletics over the course of the game from the 25,000 new followers it gained, but none was more meaningful than the one it received from the account for University of Central Florida (UCF) athletics.
The tweet — short, sweet and slightly smug — said, “Amazing what happens when an under ‘dog’ gets a fair shot in an expanded playoff … Congrats on the history.”
Now, if there is a hill I will die on, it’s that UCF’s football team should have made this past year’s College Football Playoff, if not been named the national champion after their undefeated season — a feat only they accomplished at the Division I last season.
Now, there’s a lot of reasons given why the Knights weren’t given a chance to prove their worth in the Playoff this year, which I’ve written about extensively before. But the true reason they didn’t make the Playoff is that they were a smaller school, with less commercial appeal, in a bad conference.
In college basketball, though, as pointed out by UCF’s tweet, smaller teams are able to get a shot to go up against the powerhouses, thanks to the automatic qualification spot given to each conference’s champion.
By giving each conference at least one spot in the tournament, every single team in Division I men’s and women’s basketball theoretically has a shot at winning the national championship, as they all have access to the tournament which crowns the champion.
And that is not the case with the College Football Playoff system.
This is not to say the March Madness selection committee is immune from making decisions which give an edge for the at-large bids to the tournament to teams with more marketing power — just take a look at their decision to include Oklahoma over cross-state rivals Oklahoma State, thanks in large part to the star power Sooners guard Trae Young brought to the table — but allowing for the inclusion of these smaller teams creates a genuinely more exciting and unpredictable competition. And that allows more objective results than the Playoff committee’s controversial and subjective judgements that determine who has a shot to take home the title.
Without this system, the Ramblers from Loyola-Chicago would not have made a run this year, captivating the nation with buzzer-beaters and a 98-year-old nun. Butler could never have had its run to two straight Final Fours, which catapulted their coach, Brad Stevens, to being named to one of the most hallowed titles in all of basketball — head coach of the Boston Celtics. And Gonzaga would probably not exist as the powerhouse it does today without the current tournament format, which consistently gave them access to the tournament, allowing them to become a national staple.
But this more inclusive playoff system is not just good for the little guys; its also good for the sport in general. The constant possibility of upsets brings in fans and potential players who would not otherwise tune in. Millions fill out brackets — including myself, who, not to brag, is currently sitting atop The Observer’s bracket pool — trying to prove they can best see how the chaos will unfold.
To put it simply, March Madness is simply a better product and more enjoyable than its counterpart in football. And while Duke or Villanova or some other traditional power will still prevail most times, I’d rather watch the Loyola’s of the world take down powerhouses at the buzzer than three straight matchups between Alabama and Clemson in the College Football Playoff any day.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.