So how can the NCAA basketball tourney be improved? In a couple of ways.
First, it needs to make better use of its seven-round structure. Currently, the first round with its four play-in games is the only early round in which the conventional seeding system doesn’t poison most of the fixtures. So I’ll move more games from the very bad second round to the first.
And next, something needs to be done about the seeding. Here I’ll borrow from the wisdom that informs most professional tennis competitions to moderate the problems with seeding.
Here’s a revised bracket. It covers one of the four regions – the other three will work the same way: NewMM
The present bracket sends eight teams to the play-in round, and the other 60 all start in the second round. With my revised bracket, 24 teams go to the play-in round. 36 teams start in the second round, and eight get byes into the third round.
The seeding is tiered, with these tiers:
- Four number one seeds, one in each quarter;
- Four number two seeds, one in each quarter. These seeds are done as they are at present;
- Eight number three and four seeds. These are done as they are now, except that the seeds are drawn randomly, so that the three seed doesn’t always land in the same half-region as the two seed, but might just as well land in the same half-region as the one seed;
- 28 seeds, numbers 5 to 11 for each regions, drawn randomly into the lines for teams beginning in the second round; and
- 24 seeds, numbers 12 to 17 in each region, drawn randomly into the lines for the first round.
The advantages are many. In current practice, the second round contains 32 games played over just two days. In my revised bracket, eight of those games move into the first round, which should allow fans to see more of what’s going on. And none of those games will be the silly #1 v. #16 matchups that the low-ranking team literally never wins. Not all of the games will be good ones, of course, but there will be several more competitive ones. A team that wins its own minor conference will have a real chance to win against another minor conference team.
Now, some will complain that they really like the current system because, every once in a great while, there will be a stunning upset, as when a #15 seed knocks off a #2. But those upsets, if they’re meant to happen, will still happen – they’ll just happen in a later round.
It can be difficult to visualize all of the benefits. So, once the 8-team field is set, I’ll draw those same 64 teams into my proposed brackets, and publish them here. I’m confident that nearly anyone who comes to the issue with an open mind will agree that my revised bracket would be much more entertaining watch.