Saturday, March 16, 2013

Play-In Game Winners Deserve 16-Seeds, Not 12-Seeds

As a 12-seed, USF beat Temple, but was frustrated by Ohio. (

The term "field of 64" lost its meaning in the college basketball landscape several years ago with the addition of a single play-in game bringing a 65th team into the NCAA Tournament. Since those simpler and, frankly, better times, the field has been expanded to include 68 teams and three more play-in games, turning the traditional first round into what is now coined the "second round." The play-in games are by no means necessary, but they have become a part of the fold. But why reward the teams involved with anything more than a 16-seed?

If the tournament selection committee cannot bring themselves to award teams with outright berths, should they given play-in winners a 12-seed and a lighter assignment upon entering the group of 64? Save the higher seeds for a team that has legitimately earned a spot in the tourney, whether a strong resume warrants an at-large bid or teams each improve one seed through the 12th spot, thus giving teams that have proven themselves and conference tournament champions a slightly easier assignment while sliding the play-in game winners into the bottom seed.

Allowing a team to compete for a lighter weight second round opponent can certainly make for a great story if any of the play-in teams move past the second round — a feat more likely to come out of a 12/5 match than a 16/1 game — but only one of 36 teams to participate in 18 games has ever entered the round of 32, when South Florida claimed a 12-seed and defeated Temple before suffering a six-point dismissal by Ohio in 2012.

Had the Bulls been able to overcome the Bobcats, they would have almost certainly been eliminated by No. 1-seeded North Carolina, and that possibility reveals the true problem with USF getting a 12-seed at all. The Bulls caught two lucky breaks by meeting mid-major teams after gaining entry into the larger tournament round. As good as the Atlantic 10 has been as a conference in recent years, Temple was not scaring anyone after last year's regular season ended, and D.J. Cooper and Ohio were not expected to beat a No. 4 Michigan team laden with young talent.

USF parlayed an anomalous play-in game spot into an low seed-over-high seed upset. The Bulls' success in the tournament last season is a perfect example of why college basketball in March is a thing of beauty. However, it was the machination of a committee that underrated an Ohio team, placing the Bobcats at No. 13 in their region, one spot below the USF team lacking that same committee's faith.

The Bulls' wins were not part of the natural magic of March Madness. Giving them and other teams with undefinable seasons a 12-seed is an artificial push to make play-in games relevant and until one of these programs makes a deep run into the tournament, it will remain this way. Let the deserving teams have higher seeds, let play-in game winners take their chances with a 16-seed and let the teams they beat eat cake, especially if it is a top seed.

Now that would be magical.

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