King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Stop whining about the Tournament! Cincy got shafted, Air Force got lucky, and that's good. Plus: Blown call helps U.S.


Salon Staff
March 13, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Selection Sunday has come and gone and oh, the agony. The crying, the whining, the gnashing of teeth and stomping around. Not fair, not fair, not fair!

I'm talking about my 3-year-old, but while I'm thinking of it, did you catch Jim Nantz and Billy Packer on CBS?

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The Eyeball's NCAA Tournament selection show has become first-class entertainment over the last few years because no matter what happens, Packer will find some reason to get red in the face and sputtery over the shabby treatment of poor, downtrodden, underrated conferences like the ACC.

If he's not offended by some medium-conference interloper getting too high a seed, he's miffed by an insufficient number of big-conference clubs getting in. Even when he's right, his arguments are so ridiculous and his apoplexy so grand it's the funniest show on TV.

I seem to remember my grandpa having a similar reaction to any mention of Herbert Hoover's name.

This time Packer and Nantz, along with a healthy percentage of the commentariat, were upset that several seemingly undeserving small- and medium-conference schools got bids at the apparent expense of big-conference bubble teams. The selection committee was populated this year by a smaller-conference majority, so conspiracy talk raged.

Again, all of it probably as correct as it was silly.

The gate crashers: Air Force, George Mason, Utah State. The aggrieved: Maryland, Florida State, Michigan, Cincinnati. And just to complicate things, Missouri State and maybe Creighton, from the medium-sized Missouri Valley Conference.

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Oh, the crying and wailing, the spluttering rage! I just took some scissors away from the kid, but we were talking about basketball. Try to focus.

"If it's supposed to be the best 34 [other than conference champions], there's no way that Cincinnati should not be part of the dance," Dick Vitale said on ESPN about what he thought was the biggest snub. The Bearcats would have been the ninth Big East team in the Tournament.

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"If you take the Utah States of the world," he asked, "and put 'em in the Big East, do they go 8-8? I have a little bit of a doubt."

Well, that makes one of us. I say there's no way Utah State goes 8-8 in the Big East, as Cincy did. In fact, Utah State, Air Force and George Mason might combine for eight wins in the Big East. If any of those teams played Cincinnati 10 times, they'd be hard-pressed to win three.

But here's the really important point: So what?

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I mean, are you listening to these arguments? We're talking about which teams are at the bottom of the list of the 34 best teams in the country that didn't win their conference tournament.

Everyone's excused for being mad if their own favorite team got left out. If you bleed maize and blue or say things like "Fear the Turtle," go ahead and howl at the moon. That's why we have sports. Well, that and the betting. And also without sports we'd strike out every time we reached for a metaphor.

But home-team passion aside, you can make a logically consistent, factually correct argument for why Cincinnati and that bunch should be in the Tournament and George Mason and that crowd shouldn't, and you'd be absolutely right, and totally wrong. You'd win the argument and end up with a lousy Tournament.

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These last-in teams aren't going anywhere. Most years one or two of them make a run to the Sweet 16, meaning they win two games and fall four wins short of the title.

In the last three years, the six major conferences -- ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 -- have had 26 teams seeded seventh through 10th, and none seeded lower than that. You know how many of those made the Sweet 16? Four.

Counting Conference USA, which through last year was major, the big conferences have sent five out of 35 teams seeded seventh or lower to the Sweet 16.

Smaller conferences have sent two out of 13 seeded 7-10. Two out of 13 sounds an awful lot like four out of 26, if you ask me.

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The smaller conferences also sent a 12th seed to the third round in 2003 and '05. So counting seeds 7-12, the smaller conferences have sent four of 37 teams to the Sweet 16, a slightly lower rate of success than the power conferences' 5-of-35.

So it's not like smaller-conference schools are depriving the bigger-time schools of anything but a chance at an early exit.

What we ask of these lower seeds is that they provide some excitement on the first weekend of the Tournament. In other words, we ask them to deliver the very thing that makes the NCAA Tournament the best sporting event in North America: Cinderella stories, thrilling upsets.

Now, let's say Cincinnati had made the field as a 10 or 11 seed. A first-round win, over a 7 or a 6, would have been an upset, based on seed, but it really wouldn't have looked like one. Which do you think would be more exciting and memorable, Cincinnati over Michigan State or George Mason over Michigan State?

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Or better yet, assuming no personal rooting interest, would you rather see Cincinnati make the Tournament and pull an "upset" over Cal or Indiana, or would you rather see Air Force beat Illinois?

If No. 10 Northern Iowa beats No. 7 Georgetown in the Minneapolis bracket next weekend, is that not going to be more of a classic Tournament moment than, say, No. 10 Alabama beating No. 7 Marquette in the Oakland bracket?

I'd rather see Utah State take a crack at Washington than watch Maryland play Kentucky in one of those dreary 8 vs. 9 games, with the prize being a whipping by UConn.

So would you. That's why Wisconsin-Milwaukee's win over Alabama last year was more memorable than North Carolina State's win over Charlotte.

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Bring on those interlopers. Glass slippers don't fit the feet of ACC and Big East teams, and it's unseemly to carry on about any slights they suffer at the hands of real underdogs.

Unseemly, but hilarious.

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International incident at third base [PERMALINK]

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What an egregiously bad call that was that helped the USA beat Japan in the World Baseball Classic Sunday.

Not only did home-plate umpire Bob Davidson blow the call in the eighth inning when he ruled that Tsuyoshi Nishioka had left third early when he tagged up and scored the go-ahead run, he overruled the correct call by second-base umpire Brian Knight to make the blown call.

Replays clearly showed that Nishioka didn't leave early.

Speaking of conspiracy theories. Forget the NCAA Tournament selection committee. An American umpire makes that spectacular blunder in a game involving the United States, in an international competition invented by Americans and played on U.S. soil, with commercial disaster awaiting if the U.S. doesn't advance to the semifinals.

Thank goodness this call didn't go against the United States. Not because I care who wins -- I'm rooting for the Stars and Stripes but, you know, whatever -- but because the call going that way would have been more likely to give a push to the idea of adopting instant replay.

There was a faint little drumbeat for replay after the 2005 postseason's festival of blown calls, you'll remember. We don't need umpiring gaffes in a preseason exhibition to restart it just when it had died down.

Everyone stay calm.

And a word of advice to Major League Baseball: In international athletic competitions, for the sake of appearance if nothing else, the officials in a match should not come from one of the countries competing. Look into that.

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