The madness has already begun. Unfortunately. Specifically, the insipid debate over which teams will secure No. 1 seeds for the 2009 NCAA tournament.
My umbrage is not over who gets the seeds. Not at all. After a season in which the overall top ranking was treated like a potato just out of the microwave, five teams, maybe six, can lay claim to being one of the top four teams in the nation and deserving of a No. 1 seed: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Memphis. Even Louisville, having beaten Pitt in their only meeting, can make a why-not-us? claim (though the Pitt win should be trumped by last month’s loss to underachieving Notre Dame, which probably won’t qualify for the 65-team field)
No, I’m annoyed because the debate over who gets the top seeds is the most nonsensical debate in sports. In truth, it’s irrelevant whether a team gets and No. 1, 2 or 3 seed.
It’s irrelevant because it doesn’t give the top seeds much more than the right to say they’re a No. 1 seed (“It’s a badge of honor,” says one college administrator). Well, combined with a buck, the top seeding won’t get you much more than a share of Citibank stock.
Generally, the selection committee tries to minimize travel for all teams, with priority given to higher-seeded teams. Yet no team is allowed to play on a “home court,” which means any arena where the team has played four times during the regular season.
Thus, should Pitt land the East’s top seed, it’ll play the opening two rounds at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, offering Panther fans a simple journey to the site. Same for Tar Heel fans should UNC be dubbed No. 1 in the South region, with its first games at Greensboro.
But, heck, Pitt and UNC should beat whomever they play in those opening rounds – teams seeded 16th and, at best, 9th – even if they had to play them in the other teams’ jock dorms.
That’s one reason the tournament is known for its stirring upsets. The lack of a home-court edge buoys teams that look overmatched and underwhelming on paper.
Thus, the madness.
Once teams reach the regionals, then any geographic edge is all but a non-factor. And in Detroit, site of the Final Four, none of the potential top teams has an edge.
In others sports “seedings” are typically earned (based on record) and meaningful because it awards a team the home court/field edge, which can be the difference-maker in a deciding game.
In the NCAA tournament, the verbal sparring over the top seeds is little more than simply maddening.