The NCAA has announced how it will handle the new 68-team field for its men’s basketball tournament next year.
It wasn’t rocket science. It was logical.
The process prompted several weeks of debate and several fill-in issues for columnists and talk shows during a slow period — in which numbers from 98 teams to everybody was being bantered.
They’ve added three more teams to the process.
But things just needed some basic tweaking.
What will happen will be a single play-in game, which was really a first-round game, will be turned into two games, which will really be first-round games. What used to be first-round games will be second-round games and second-round games will be third-round games. The first three rounds of the tournament will be played during the first week, the second- and third-round games on the usual Thursday-Saturday, Friday-Sunday format.
The teams will be selected and seeded as usual. One key difference will be that the last four teams to make the tourney field will be announced for the first time. Those four teams will be paired in the first-round matchups.
That means that a first-round game will not necessarily match two teams from the Southwestern Athletic and one of the East Coast Conferences (which have automatic berths with traditionally low RPIs). Teams with automatic qualifiers will not necessarily be the last teams added.
Most of the time, those first-round games will match two No. 10 seeds (possibly from a major conference or a a mid-major) or two No. 12 seeds. It’s the last four in. So, a first-round game could match, for example, an SEC team that might have finished fourth in its division but advanced to the tourney finals against a Big Ten team with similar achievement.
There are 31 automatic qualifiers and 37 at-large berths.
Officials hope it will make for two attractive and exciting first-round matchups leading to the heart of the tournament.
The winning teams would advance in their normal placement according to their seeds. For example, a victorious No. 10 seed would take on a No. 7 seed in the second round or a No. 12 team would play a No. 5 seed.
All four brackets will be balanced and the spirit of the seeding system will be preserved.
Officials have not determined whether the two first-round games will be played on the same night (probably a Tuesday) or two nights. Those games will be telecast on Turner Broadcasting System’s Tru-TV. It will probably be up to that network whether it would prefer a doubleheader or single games on different nights. That would also depend on whether the first-round games will be played at a single site or two different sites.
The NCAA seems to have done the right thing in tweaking something rather than overhauling a good thing.
You could have something like Alabama vs. Texas A&M or Indiana vs. Clemson in those first round games.
That’s enhancing the overall situation.
Now, if you could get Paul the Octopus, perfect in World Cup games, to help fill out those brackets ...
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)