Fourth and Long

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, March 16, 2011

With the NCAA Tournament beginning this week, I couldn’t possibly write about anything else.

In case you hadn’t noticed the tournament has a few extra teams this season.

This year 68 squads have been invited to participate in the greatest postseason in all of sports. I never agreed with the reasoning behind expansion of the field from 65 teams to 68, but then again I didn’t understand why they expanded from 64 teams to 65 in 2001.

I can only assume that after Duke won the National Championship that some important people got together and decided to try and figure out what must have gone horribly wrong. Can you tell I’m still a little bitter about it?

Regardless of my lack of desire to see the field of play watered down, I still believe that where college football has gotten it wrong all these years college basketball and it’s postseason tournament has gotten it right.

Over the last decade, however, there has been a lot of media attention given to those that didn’t “make the cut.” The apparent fix for such a problem thus far has been expansion of the tournament and, despite this year’s expansion, there is already a large media outcry for a revamping of the entire system.

I will go on the record now and say that this is a horrible idea.

The most popular idea among the so-called experts employed to discuss the tournament on television seems to entail there be no automatic qualifiers and the tournament simply take the top 32, 64 or 68 teams and distribute them evenly and fairly across the bracket.

This may sound to some like the best plan to ever come out of La-La Land. The problem with those plans, however, is that they rarely seem to work out the way you expect anywhere outside of La-La Land. It’s never going to be fair for everyone.

It seems to me a good sign that a couple of decent teams get left out of the tournament every year. That’s how you know the tournament has a quality field.

If there wasn’t at least some controversy regarding a few teams that someone felt deserved to be invited then it probably means there are too many teams that did get invited that didn’t earn it.

Haven’t we already learned that continuing to add more teams to the tournament field doesn’t end the debate? People want the debate; it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

My biggest concern with revamping the process is the luster and excitement it will remove from conference tournaments. There is a certain amount of anticipation that goes along with the beginning of the conference tournament and the knowledge that for every team a string of three or four wins in a row could earn them a trip to the big dance.

If you’re a UNC fan like me, or a dook fan like many other poorer souls, then it may be easy to forget how exciting Selection Sunday is for schools and their respective fans all across the country. Last year should have taught us Carolina fans that it’s not, but still too many of us think a trip to the NCAA Tournament is a birthright.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while the system isn’t perfect, I suggest taking a moment to compare to the other sports postseason’s (collegiate or otherwise) and appreciate that there are currently none more exciting. It’s like they say, if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at