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Friday, March 31, 2006

Too Many Cinderellas in March Madness

As George Mason is heralded as the epitome of what the NCAA basketball tournament is all about this weekend, I’m curious if fans really want lower seeds invading the Final Four. I know this sounds a little crazy. We all love watching the 12 seed upset the 5 on the first two days. If “the little school that could” makes it to the Sweet 16, all the better.

It’s exciting. It’s a great story. It reminds us that on any given day, any bunch of guys can beat the future lottery picks.

But, let’s face it, the office pool is why this tournament is so popular. And as much as we all swear that the airhead who picks Tulsa because her boyfriend went there always wins the damn thing anyway, we don’t really believe that. We start anew each year, putting our college hoops expertise to use, knowing that this year would be different. This year our half hour of study of team summaries in the paper — along with our Saturdays on the couch — is going to pay off.

Of course, it never does because some damn 11 seed knocks off our third of four Final Four picks on the second Sunday.

But, I’m truly beginning to wonder if parody will be the undoing of everyone’s favorite tournament. Not a single number one seed reached the Final Four this year. I mean, a 2, 3, and 4 rounding out the field with the 11 isn’t too bad, but even that — three higher seeds getting this far — may become more of a fluke than anything soon.

If that happens, we won’t be tearing up our pools in disgust any more. We just won’t fill them out.

There’s even talk of expanding the field, which merely adds a dozen or so more teams most of us have never heard of. My guess is that if parody truly takes hold, the romantics who claim to love the Cinderellas will be watching the tourney alone. In fact, only a handful of them will be watching.

It’s time to dump the automatic bids. Keep the conference tournaments because they’re fun, but stop with the Monmonths, Winthrops, Air Forces, etc. Enough is enough. They water down the competition, upset teams that took them too lightly, and ultimately help lesser teams win.

I’m not saying only take teams like Duke, North Carolina, and UCLA. George Mason got an at-large bid. Two years ago, St. Joseph’s earned their high seed. Give the smaller schools a fair shake, but make them earn their way in.

Otherwise, we’ll literally be able to fill out our pool by picking teams out of a hat.

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