As I mentioned earlier, Bobby Knight made some noise last night with his insistence that the NCAA Tournament either do away with automatic bids or expand the field to 128 teams so that "everyone’s happy."
What Knight and others lose sight of is that the tournament is first a system to determine a champion for Division I basketball.
If you are going to have a sanctioned NCAA Division I championship, the process must be open to every Division I conference and team. Football gets away with a system that excludes most conferences and teams because, as we hear so often, the NCAA does not recognize a national champion from Division 1-A. At-large bids are fine, and many of them might be more appropriate participants than some of the automatic bids, especially when so many of the automatic bids are handed out as the result of a weekends’ conference tournament.
But never forget that at-large bids are essentially grace. They are teams who did not qualify for the tournament by objective means and are included subjectively to round out a 65-team tournament. Until 1975 there were no at-large bids, and #5 Maryland was left out of the 1974 NCAA Tournament because they lost the ACC final in what some call the greatest game ever played. Imagine this year’s tournament without Duke, Texas, or Tennessee.
We know that bubble teams rarely make much of a splash past the first few rounds of the tournament. So when Knight and other power conference proponents make arguments that conference champions should be cast aside in favor of more major conference teams struggling to stay above .500 in their leagues, remember that it’s mostly about access for these bubble teams. Virginia Tech or any of the other bubble teams weren’t going to compete for the national title. What matters is status – playing on CBS this weekend and adding a 2008 NCAA Tournament banner in the arena.
It might be that recipients of automatic bids don’t belong playing with teams like UNC and UCLA. I’m not going to act as if Georgia’s spot in the tournament is anything but surreal. But I’m not going to take that away from legitimate conference champions just so some 9-7 ACC school can pretend that it belongs in the national title discussion.
Cowherd had a great point today – if we’re this hung up over the 65th seed to the basketball tournament, how bad will it get when we’re talking about the #8 or #16 seed in a football playoff?