NCAA Game Theory's All Wrong

By Cox, Ted | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

NCAA Game Theory's All Wrong


Cox, Ted, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Ted Cox TV/Radio Columnist

Maybe this TV critic has been watching too much of "The X- Files," if not "The Lone Gunmen" (more likely), but am I the only one who smells a conspiracy to expand the NCAA Tournament?

When the NCAA decided it had to give a tournament bid to the new Mountain West Conference, and also determined it didn't want to trim its 34 at-large spots, it ruled with all the wisdom of Solomon to cut the 64th and final spot in half and pit Northwestern State and Winthrop in a "play-in" game, presented Tuesday on TNN.

Conspiracy or not - and I'll get to my paranoid reasoning soon enough - I'm not the only one against the play-in game. In fact, CBS head hoops honcho Jim Nantz weighed in against it earlier this week on a media conference call.

"I don't like the game," Nantz said. "I thought they had a really good thing going. I know why they felt they had to do it, because the Mountain West was formed. They wanted to give another automatic bid to the champion in the Mountain West and not take anything away from the at-large pool. But it just makes the whole so uneven. And I thought they had the perfect template with 64 teams."

CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer was only mildly more diplomatic. "I can see the political pressure not only on the (selection) committee but the NCAA, that they're trying to say, OK, if you have a legitimate conference, this is supposed to be for everybody to be included," he said. "So I don't think it's a basketball decision, it's a matter of politics. And certainly without question politics played an important role here and was the call of the day. And whether I like it or not is kind of immaterial."

But is it just politics, or is something more important calling the shots - like maybe money? First of all, who benefits? The game, which commanded more interest than any Northwestern State-Winthrop match-up had a right to, was bumped by CBS, which owns the exclusive TV rights to the NCAA tourney, to its cable sibling TNN, a former country-music station previously best been known for sports programming such as rodeo, auto racing and, ahem, the XFL.

CBS' Viacom ownership would love to bump as many games as possible to TNN as long as it doesn't cut into CBS' hoops time. And they're going to have the chance this year because the NCAA selection committee took the amazing step of granting 29 of the tournament's 34 at-large bids to the six major conferences: the Big Ten, the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 and the Pacific 12. …

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