The NCAA Tournament needs more Davids and fewer Goliaths.
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament selection committee needs to give more of a break to the little guys when deciding which teams make the 68-team field. During the last several years, the at-large selections have been dominated by the Big Six BCS conferences -- ACC, Big East, Big Twelve, Big Ten, Pac-10, and SEC.
This year, most prognosticators are predicting that the Big East will get 11 teams into the Big Dance. That's just too many.
In order to restore more balance and fairness, the NCAA should adopt a rule that there should be a maximum number of five total teams per conference that can be included in the tournament field. There should be a caveat to that rule -- additional teams from one conference can be selected to the field if they have an RPI of 25 or lower OR if they played a minimum of 33 percent of their out of conference games on the road. Under this criteria, around eight Big East teams would make the field this year due to their RPI.
Every year, the deck is heavily stacked in favor of the Big Six conferences. They have great exposure through extensive television appearances, which also results in those teams getting the highest rated recruits. More importantly, most of the major conference teams play almost all of their nonconference games on their home court. They might play a couple of holiday tournament games on neutral courts, but very rarely do they travel to play a game on a nonconference opponent's home court. This is a huge advantage, as it allows the major conference teams to pad their record. College basketball is the sport in which home court is the most important. It's very hard to win games on the road.
Take the 11 Big East teams that are likely to make the NCAA Tournament this year. Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame played zero nonconference away games on another team's home court. UConn and Louisville played one nonconference away game each; Marquette, West Virginia, and Cincinnati played two away games each, while Villanova, Georgetown, and St. John's played three each.
It's not just the Big East teams that do it. Many, if not most, of the Big Six Conference teams play very few nonconference away games. Among Top 20 teams, Duke played one nonconference away game, while Ohio State, Kansas, Arizona, and Texas played two each.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a rule that allowed only one team per conference to be selected to the NCAA Tournament field. Clearly, this was too restrictive. The most egregious exclusion from the NCAA Tournament field was the 1974 Maryland Terrapins, one of the top five teams in the country, who didn't make the NCAA field because they lost to North Carolina State in a classic overtime game in the ACC Tournament.
No doubt, the Big East teams will do well in the tournament this year. Almost all of them will get top 4 seeds, which means an almost guaranteed first round win against a weak team. Announcers will likely gush over how great the Big East performed in the tournament when they get 6 or more teams in the Sweet 16. But if you gave any conference 11 teams in the field and gave them top seeds, most of them would do very well, even good non-Big Six conferences like the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, or Conference USA.
Critics of imposing a maximum number of at-large teams per conference would argue that conference affiliation should be irrelevant when selecting the field and that the only criteria should be the selection of the best teams. The problem with that argument is that once you get past the top 20 or so teams, you can make a valid argument for and against the remaining 40 or so Bubble Teams. Generally, there's not much difference between the sixth or seventh best team from a Big Six Conference that had 11 or 12 losses and a second or third place finisher from a so-called Mid-Major Conference that had 5 or 6 losses.
For most people, the most exciting part of the NCAA Tournament is the first week of games, when the smaller schools get their shot at one shining moment of national exposure and occasionally pull an upset against a major conference team. People fondly look back at the recent deep tournament runs of programs such as George Mason, Butler, Gonzaga, Davidson, Saint Joseph's, Memphis, and Xavier.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee needs to spread the wealth around. In the last few years, they've usually given the benefit of the doubt to Bubble teams from the Big Six Conferences over teams from smaller conferences. Unless they stop following this trend, the NCAA needs to mandate more inclusion of the smaller schools into the field.