Happy Halloween: Everyone’s unbeaten.
by Clay Kallam
In many ways, this is the best part of the season–at least for coaches and players.
Everyone’s unbeaten, and the only thing to worry about is injuries. Though practice might not be a lot of fun for players, coaches love it, and it’s easy to be optimistic. That junior point guard is going to finally learn not to force the ball through three defenders, and the shooter who was automatic in high school will finally get her three-point percentage above 30. It’s possible to believe that everything will fall into place, and the ugly little facts that will inevitably assert themselves once the games start are still hidden by theoretical dreams of a great leap forward.
Of course, there’s really not much that qualifies as news, so there’s time for some speculation about the bigger picture, which will get lost in the shuffle of game results in just a few weeks.
How many teams should be in the tournament? Please … there are barely 64 teams worthy of playing in the women’s tournament right now–and though it’s always a nice thing to save the jobs of mediocre coaches by allowing a bunch of them to get into a 96-team bracket, it’s just not a good idea.
First, it’s going to lose money. A lot of money. The women’s tournament already is millions of dollars in the red, and somehow I don’t think fans are going to flock to a first-round matchup between the sixth place finisher in the Big 10 and the third-place finisher in the Big Sky. (Be still my heart…)
Second, ESPN isn’t going to want to show all the games so even if there is a big upset, no one will see it. Whatever games are on will involve the usual suspects, who aren’t going to lose to Texas-Arlington in the first round.
Finally, shouldn’t a team have to be good to make the tournament? If 96 go, that’s almost one-third of the Division I teams, which hardly seems like an elite group.
Where should the tournaments be played? Speaking of the NCAA tournament, it’s time to dump the whole predetermined site nonsense and let the higher seeds host.
As it is, the bigger checkbook gets to play at home in the first two rounds, regardless of seed–and sometimes the bigger checkbook doesn’t even qualify for the tournament, which means no one comes to the games at all. The NCAA did try to make an adjustment, going from 16 sites to eight, again believing the faulty logic that better marketing was all that was required to sell more tickets, ignoring the fact that home teams with good records are the best way to get fans to come.
So now there’s talk of going back to 16 sites, and letting the top 16 seeds host, which works for two reasons:
1.) Teams that play well, rather than teams that give the NCAA the most money, get to play at home. That’s justice, plain and simple.
2.) The chances of selling tickets, and avoiding TV shots of acres of empty seats, go way up.
The only disadvantage is that it’s tougher for ESPN to get crews to 16 sites instead of eight, especially since those sites won’t be decided until a week before the games. Still, there’s certainly a way to make this work for ESPN, since that’s the only variable on the negative side of the equation.
Should there be summer recruiting? There are rumblings that the men will eliminate the July recruiting period, and if so, the women will do the same. On the men’s side, there’s so much money involved that the sharks circle players from junior high on, so there are reasons to shift the recruiting focus to high school, where there’s more accountability and control.
It is, however, much more expensive, as the summer circuit allows coaches to see lots of players in the same place at the same time. Division I talent is spread much more thinly in high school, so teams would have to spend much more money to see the same amount of talent. Of course, money’s less of an issue on the men’s side, but in NCAA basketball, the women always do what the men do, even if it makes no sense. That’s not exactly the feminist ideal, as I understand it, but it’s the way it is in the NCAA.