The genre of bracket reactions is clearly in crisis. Quality of analysis has declined for years, and nowadays writers lack the fundamental skills to pen a cogent and trenchant bracket reaction piece. These days talented young writers are striking up relationships with shadowy agents earlier and earlier and are in it just for the big payoff down the line.
Every agent whispers in the young writer’s ear that he or she will be the next Michael Lewis, but inevitably most wash out of the profession entirely and turn to real estate. Stories abound that a wretched few even end up in law school.
Moreover the pacing of these bracket reaction pieces has steadily decreased in recent times and is now at an all-time low. Any polemic points scored in such works are more or less purely accidental. What’s needed is a commissioner of bracket reactions and a change to the post/spike rules.
Seriously, bracket reaction pieces do have a preposterously tough nut to crack. Any bracket of 68 teams will present us with an insuperable and immutable chasm between an outcome’s importance and its probability. As the former increases, the latter decreases, and vice versa.
Take Boise State. The Broncos face a certain outcome: Leon Rice’s team will play a true road game against Dayton in Dayton in the First Four. Playing on an opponent’s home floor two time zones away just 72 hours after the brackets are announced is less than ideal, and when the likelihood of a given outcome is factored into the equation you can make a case that this is the big story coming out of the 2015 bracket. If we thought it might actually matter the New York Post would go to town. “BRONCOS BUSTED,” or maybe “STEAMED RICE.”
But we don’t think it actually matters, because we know there’s a 95 percent probability that BSU will be out of the tournament the first weekend — and those odds would be nearly as long even if the Broncos got to play their first game on a neutral floor. Conversely the things that do matter — Arizona having to face Wisconsin and Wisconsin having to face Arizona; Kansas playing against Kentucky — have a much better than 50-50 chance of never happening.
One solution to this dire journalistic crisis would be to atomize the seeding process. It would be far easier to react to the bracket if we were critiquing 68 individual decisions by 68 individual coaches.
The idea of turning the bracket into a draft has been a hardy perennial on Twitter for a while now thanks in large part to the efforts of the indefatigable Andy Glockner. Then last week the notion was given an excellent boost by my colleague Jordan Brenner. The idea is that the NCAA would continue to select which 68 teams get in and indeed would keep ranking teams from 1 through 68 (what is currently known as the true seed list), but after that the good men and women in Indianapolis would simply get out of the way. As Jordan puts it well:
Certain coaches surely would choose a tougher Elite Eight opponent if it meant playing 500 miles closer to home. But not all would. So why is the committee deciding for them? Because, as we’ve established, that’s what the NCAA does.
Naturally there would have to be restrictions on what slot a coach or AD can pick for his or her team, and certainly you’d have to offset the relative knowledge disadvantage that would come from a top seed watching as its entire bracket is subsequently built underneath the top line. (Glockner has proposed giving each top seed or perhaps a few high seeds one veto.) But the animating impulse here is not only sound but obvious to the point of being banal.
The only reason the NCAA is still seeding the field in 2015 is that the tournament dates from a time when, logistically speaking, the NCAA had to seed the field. This is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for 20 years or longer. We now have the ability to fill a bracket in a few hours on Selection Sunday based on the decisions made by coaches and programs strewn all over the country.
The thing I like about a draft is that as far as I can see it solves problems for every stakeholder in the equation. The NCAA would love it because having a draft that takes four hours or so would, at long last, kill Selection Sunday basketball as dead as Marley’s ghost. (The NCAA has long hated basketball on Selection Sunday, because it makes it harder to get the bracket done on time.)
Television networks would love a draft because it would make for incredible, dramatic, and DVR-impervious TV. Advertisers would love a draft because it would expand the broad audience for the selection show across a much longer period of time.
Coaches would love a draft because, except for Bob McKillop, they’re all a bunch of overcaffeinated control freaks. (Just kidding, coaches. But do consider going easy on the timeouts.) Fans would love a draft because fans always love drafts, and most particularly love booing every selection regardless of its merit. Twitter would explode all afternoon and into the evening as the bracket slowly defines itself bit by democratic bit.
At root what my laudably innovative colleagues have proposed constitutes the liberation of the committee and the NCAA. Instead of being trapped in that same dreary downtown conference room that they’ve been holed up in since the 1990s, the men’s basketball committee could finish their work on Saturday and spend Sunday congratulating each other at a packed and raucous Hinkle Fieldhouse as the draft picks are announced: “With the fifth pick in the 2015 NCAA tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers select the No. 2 seed in the South Region.”
The NCAA, TV, advertisers, fans, teams — it’s win-win-win-win-win. We should do this.