Upsets. Excitement. Heartbreak.
Those are just three qualities on the endless list of reasons why the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one of the greatest spectacles in sports.
By now, I’m sure your bracket is ruined thanks to teams like Lehigh, Norfolk State or Cincinnati. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re the master of picking upsets and are currently in the driver’s seat of your bracket pool.
That’s what makes March exciting: three weeks of college basketball teams playing their hearts out for forty minutes to determine who moves on and who goes home. Just when you think you have figured out who will win it all, a school you’ve never heard of turns the whole thing upside down and chaos ensues.
It’s great. March rules.
Until somebody comes along and says something like this: “See! Look how exciting this is! Just imagine if they did this in football, too!”
Usually their idea involves some sort of massive playoff system where conference champions get an automatic bid into a tournament with the big boys.
“It would be great!” they cry. “We would finally know who the best team really is!”
A tournament like that would be a disaster, mainly because the upsets wouldn’t happen.
“But what about Appalachian State beating Michigan?!”
Yes, that did happen. In 2007. Can you name another example like it? I’ll wait.
Maybe once in a while you’d have a case where a Northern Illinois somehow squeaks it out over an overrated Big Ten or Pac-12 team. But other than that, upsets just don’t happen in college football like they do in college basketball.
In basketball, teams only play seven, eight or maybe even nine players, but typically no more than that. If one or two of those players get hot from behind the three-point line, anything can happen.
Just ask Missouri. Norfolk State’s starters went a combined 10-16 behind the arc, and the team hit more than 50 percent of its shots from the field in the game that crushed Missouri’s Final Four hopes.
There’s no equivalent of that in football. Basketball is a much more individualized sport, whereas football requires a complete team effort to get a win. And when you have 50- or 60-man rosters, the talent difference is just too much to overcome 99.9 percent of the time.
And just so we’re clear, Boise State does not qualify as an example Cinderella team.
If you want to make a basketball equivalent, Boise is more comparable to Marquette or Xavier, not Lehigh or Norfolk State.
The Broncos have the talent to compete with the top teams in the country as well as a coach who can get it done. Just look what they’ve done against their own conference, which is filled with teams that have severe deficiencies compared to the top college football program.
The BCS works for college football and March Madness works for college basketball. The two systems are equally exciting for different reasons. They each work for the sport they serve.
College football and college basketball are two different sports. Why can’t they just have two different postseasons?