2011 NCAA Tournament: From Fairy Tale to Nightmare

As a diehard college sports fan who happens to live in Richmond, Virginia, I feel compelled to explain my views of this year’s NCAA tournament. Sure, everyone loves it when a Cinderella comes seemingly out of nowhere to slay the giants. Okay, so maybe I’m combining fairy tales, but you get the idea. This year, that Cinderella team was the VCU Rams. According to the VCU Men’s Basketball website, this same team finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Conference and was unable to win its conference tournament, which happens to be played in Richmond each year. It is also the same team that lost to South Florida, Georgia State, and Northeastern. Michael Heistand writes about how many experts expressed their shock and dissatisfaction when the Rams were invited to play in the tournament on Selection Sunday because they did not believe that VCU had as impressive of a resume as numerous other teams. This was not a sign of disrespect or an attempt to suggest that the Rams “didn’t belong” as some contended. According to a CBS News article, the team’s coach, Shaka Smart, did not even hold an event to watch the selection show, as he, too, was sure that his team would not be invited to the “big dance”. Yet, with the expanded tournament, the Rams managed to sneak into the NCAA tournament and take out some strong teams from major conferences in the process, including Kansas. The team quickly assumed the role of Cinderella. If the shoe fits…

Nevertheless, after Butler handled VCU and Connecticut squeezed by Kentucky in the Final Four, fans hoping for a Cinderella story were left with a nightmare of a national championship game. Many people, such as Mike Pascale, argue that VCU’s postseason success is a testament to why the NCAA tournament should be expanded. With more teams in the tournament, there will certainly be more upsets because there is greater parity in college basketball than in the past. Further, the tournament is all about matchups. Teams don’t have to beat the 67 other teams in the postseason; they just have to play better than the few teams that stand between them and the national championship game. However, if the tournament is expanded, lower-seeded teams might defeat stronger teams and advance simply because they are hot at that time, as was the case this year with VCU. If that occurs, then the regular season in college basketball will become equivalent to the preseason in the NFL. In addition, a team with a mediocre regular season performance and an exceptional postseason performance might then become the national champion, which is an unsettling thought.

Therefore, we must stop the madness and take a step back. The purpose of the NCAA tournament is to determine a national champion. Given that the lowest-ranked team to ever win the tournament in more than 70 years was 8th-seeded Villanova in 1985, why not simply invite the best 32 teams in the nation to play based on their performance during the entire season, regardless of conference affiliation? Although there would still be arguments about which teams were left out unfairly, at least the strongest teams would be contending for the championship.

VCU. ” 2010-11 Men’s Basketball Schedule,” VCU Athletics.

Michael Hiestand, ” Billy Packer agrees with ESPN’s Bilas on VCU,” USA Today.

Associated Press. ” NCAA Upset: VCU Stuns No. 1 Kansas, 71-61,”CBS News Sports.

Mike Pascale. ” NCAA Tournament Final Four: VCU Basketball Proves It’s Time to Expand to 96,” Bleacher Report.

CBS. ” NCAA Tournament History,” CBS Sports.