March Madness. As a North Carolina native-Tar Heel born and bred-I live for this month and the first week of April. From the conference tournaments to Selection Sunday to the Final Four, I've spent my whole life glued to the television during this time of year. I remember countless times watching games during class from elementary through high school (in North Carolina they mine as well cancel school during the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament because all anyone does is watch the games).
Last April, my greatest dream as a Carolina basketball fan came true as North Carolina won the NCAA National Championship in my senior year at UNC. Best memory ever of spending an entire afternoon waiting in line at a bar followed by hours of waiting (and drinking) in the bar for the game to start then the 2 fleeting hours of gametime culminating in a mad rush to Franklin Street to celebrate by chanting and jumping bonfires.
Fast forward about a year later. Carolina is a dismal 16-14, 5-10 in the ACC going into the final regular season game (against Duke- #4 in the country). Carolina will not make the tournament that they breezed through last year. They will barely make the National Invitational Tournament (NIT- or the "Not Invited Tournament" as I used to taunt my NC State fan friends when their team frequently participated). This season makes it interesting that next year the NCAA is strongly considering expanding the tournament from 65 to 96 teams. A lot of people (including me) think this is a horrible idea. A number 16 seed has never beaten a number 1 seed in the tournament.
So what's the point in adding 31 additional teams who have even less of a chance of winning? Would people actually watch these teams suffer through games against teams that are far better than them? Wouldn't these players rather just have a chance of playing more games and possibly winning the NIT? Won't an extra game for mid-seeded teams simply make them more tired and less likely to beat a higher seeded team? Who really wants to fill in their brackets with an extra 31 teams that they've never heard of?
The answers to these questions don't matter though. It's all about the money. More teams=more games=more viewers=more advertisements=more revenue. And that's what matters to ESPN and CBS and the key decision-makers for this dilemma.
The NCAA tournament should be an exclusive event. It's about bragging rights and competition and the belief that nearly any team that participates can win games (surely one day a 16 seed will win a game). Yes, there is a good chance that Carolina would make the NCAA tournament this year if there were 96 teams, but to me, our team would not be deserving of being a tournament team with its performance this year. If all the ACC teams were to make the tournament (which would be likely most years),there would be no one to chant "you weren't invitedddd!" to (as many Duke fans will say to Carolina fans this year). Where's the fun in that?