A bracketing idea whose time has come (and which has absolutely no shot)
Posted On March 23, 2022
For many of us, it’s ultimately about the bracket – our bracket. To get to that creature of sweet possibilities, the NCAA tournament has known a long evolution: The incremental growth from eight teams to 68; seeding of teams, starting in 1979; the 2001 implementation of the geographically sensible pod system; and in 2019, the introduction of advanced metrics over the long-vilified RPI.
Now it’s time for another twist. I advance it knowing there’s not a chance in hell it ever happens.
Last week, I eyeballed odds on the first-round games. In particular, one stood out: 11th-seeded Michigan was a slight favorite over No. 6 Colorado State. The early line was in the neighborhood of 2.5 points, Michigan the favorite, dropping to a point or thereabouts. Somewhere in there, the Wolverines’ point guard, DeVante’ Jones, was ruled out because of a concussion.
Does it seem slightly cockeyed that the 11 seed should be favored over the 6?
Ah, you say, the betting line is only a reflection of how the oddsmakers anticipate public response, with a goal of encouraging equal wagering on both sides. True, that.
But the line is also a result of a compilation of metrics, a power rating for each team and other analytics. In other words, that number reflects some solid, identifiable mathematics – which makes it a lot like the NCAA basketball committee’s process of selecting the tournament teams.
No matter the increasingly sophisticated and quantifiable process for selecting and seeding teams, I think the committee would want to know when a No. 11 seed is going to be anointed the favorite over the team it just seeded No. 6.
So, a recommendation: The committee should annually have an advisor – yes, an oddsmaker – who might weigh in with observations about whether a particular matchup might seem out of whack with regards to the probable point spread. To use the Michigan-Colorado State example, maybe another set of eyes suggests that Michigan might warrant a 10 seed, or Colorado State only a 7 (judging by the Mountain West’s one-day crash-and-burn, that might have been a prudent adjustment).
The wise guy’s take wouldn’t be binding – just another opinion worth hearing out.
The Wolverine-Ram pairing was hardly the only one that could raise eyebrows. Almost any year, there are others. Last week, Providence was a 2.5-point favorite over South Dakota State. Does that sound like what you might expect in a confrontation of a No. 4 seed (the Friars) and a No. 13?
Too radical, you say. I assume schools still hang NCAA-generated posters near their locker rooms on the potential dangers around gambling.
But like it or not, the NCAA must concede that the place of gambling in our society has changed dramatically in recent decades.
The NFL has partnered with several sportsbooks. Las Vegas, once seen as a no-no for sports ventures, is now home to the NFL and NHL. (I can recall when the Pac-12 considered Sin City off-limits for its conference-title football game and the post-season hoops tournament.)
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that prohibited state-authorized sports gambling. Cue the flood of sportsbooks, including those in tribal casinos in the state of Washington, listing college and pro games.
Combine that with the new world of court-sanctioned name/image/likeness possibilities for NCAA athletes. If you watched top overall seed Gonzaga this season, you saw repeated commercials featuring Zag center Drew Timme and Northern Quest Casino.
Could this idea possibly materialize? Not a chance. Years ago, a fellow sportswriter made a pitch to sit in on the committee’s four-day selection and seeding process to bring light to an often-controversial exercise. Naturally, he was turned down, since the committee has tended to guard its moves like it’s keeping watch over nuclear codes.
To repeat, that was years ago. Like the track of gambling into our sensibilities, maybe the committee should consider sharpening its process with one more voice.