When I took part in the NCAA Tournament committee's mock-bracket exercise in February, I couldn't have been more impressed by the people involved -- from the not-so-gruff but lovable Greg Shaheen (the NCAA senior VP overlord for the Tournament and its TV deals) all the way down.
But today's unveiling of the 68-team NCAA bracket format does a disservice to the teams and the brackets in favor of appeasing Turner. Thumbs down to Shaheen and the committee.
To rehash the new format, which they've dubbed the "First Four (R):"
1) Where once there was a single opening-round game between Teams No. 64 and 65 on Tuesday of the opening week, there now will be four first-round games to be televised by new partner Turner Broadcasting on truTV. Sure hope everyone has that.
2) Two of the first-round matchups will pair the four "worst" teams in the tournament. In other words, they'll be No. 16 seeds vs. No. 17 seeds.
3) The other two matchups will pair the final four at-large teams. For example, two of these final four teams might share the No. 12 seed in the South regional. They'll battle for the right to face the South's No. 5 seed in the second round. Two other teams might share the No. 11 seed in the East and fight for the right to play the No. 6 seed.
Not only is this unfair to these final four teams to deal with this extra hurdle, it's unfair to the teams the winners will face in the next round. No. 12 seeds match up well with No. 5 seeds in general -- but now they'll enter that game with some confidence built from beating a good team in the first round.
I'm assuming this compromise was struck for Turner's benefit...because it sure doesn't benefit the integrity and balance of the NCAA Tournament.
Oh, and here's Dan Guerrero's quote about the decision:
"With the new bracket essentially featuring four additional at-large teams, the committee determined it was appropriate to have the teams play in the first round," said Guerrero, the director of athletics at UCLA and chair of the committee for the 2009-10 academic year. "We believe this format provides an extraordinary opportunity for the championship‟s first-round games to be quality match-ups as March Madness begins."
The NCAA's official memo on the subject doesn't say whether this is set in stone for the entire 14-year TV deal with Turner and CBS. Let's hope it can be reviewed in a year or two.