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An Angry Rant About Angry Ranting (and the NCAA Tourney)

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I am, in fact, mad as hell, and I would like to request I not be required to take it any longer.
Today is one of the holiest of days on the sporting calendar, the start of the NCAA basketball tournament. (And yes, before you even start, I'm fully aware the powers that be would like for us all to believe that the play-in games were the start of the tourney and this is actually the second round, but I think we all know that's bunk.) If you wanted to, you could sit and do nothing but watch college basketball from before brunch to past midnight. 

The whole process surrounding the tournament is always great, in fact. The various conference tournaments are brilliant to follow and Selection Sunday is tons of fun, with pundits from every imaginable outlet crowing about which teams were snubbed by being left out. 

And that's actually where I would like to start. See, there's something that's really, really pissing me off I've been hearing from a lot of media types, and it has to do with which teams were included and which are headed to the NIT. 

I don't have a problem with all the discussion of teams who were snubbed. In fact, it's kind of fun. The bitching about RPI numbers and strength of schedule and the committee's inconsistency from year to year on following their own guideline's doesn't bother me a bit. 

There is, however, one particular viewpoint which never fails to infuriate me every time I hear it, and unfortunately for my blood pressure I've been hearing way too many people expressing it lately. 

What pisses me off is when I hear a talking head say this: "Well, sure, so-and-so may have gotten snubbed, but let's face it, we're talking about the 60th best team vs. the 65th best team. None of these teams are going to win a national title, so it really doesn't matter that much." They follow this up with an angry rant about whiny teams and modern culture and the welfare state. So, you know, the standard bullshit you get from these idiots. 

Now, first off, in the interest of being fair and balanced, that statement is, in a certain way, sort of true. After all, the lowest seeded team to ever win an NCAA championship was Villanova in 1985, when they won as an eighth seed. So technically, we could have a 32 team field and be guaranteed of not leaving out a potential title contender. Or, hell, just take a look at the field every year. There are between eight and twelve teams in any given year with a realistic chance to win it all. So hey, just take the twelve best teams, give the top four a bye, and play it out like the NFL playoffs. Screw the whole tournament thing, since we're really only worried about the teams who can win, right? 

My problem with such an asinine statement as it just not mattering that much is this: it matters to the teams. That bubble team who just gets left out of the tourney? It matters to them. It matters to the players, it matters to their fans, but more importantly, it matters to the future of the programs. 

An appearance in the NCAA tournament is a huge boon for recruiting. When potential recruits come in for their visits at Anonymous U., who made the tournament, the coach can talk to the kid and his parents about their recent run of tournament appearances and the television exposure that gives them. The team that was left out can tell their recruits about going to the NIT. And guess what? Unless the kid's parents have been living in a bomb shelter since the fifties, they don't care about the NIT. (To be fair, if they have been living in a bomb shelter since the fifties the NIT is going to seem like a pretty big deal.) Which of those colleges do you think is going to have a better shot signing their recruits? 

To those teams on the bubble, receiving that NCAA tourney invite is a huge deal. It can make all the difference in the world as the coaching staff tries to build their program up. Duke is Duke because players want to go there. A huge part of why players want to go there is because they know they're going to be playing on the big-boy stage come March. When a bubble team misses out on the tournament it doesn't just hurt the players who don't get the experience. It hurts the program going forward as they struggle to attract talent to a university who can only offer stories of how they totally should have made it a couple years back. 

So to all those commentators out there who want to say it doesn't matter which 32 teams fill out the back half of the tournament field, I would like to invite you to shut the hell up. Just because it doesn't matter you doesn't mean it doesn't matter at all. 

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