The days of an equal tournament playing field have become urban legend ever since the S-curve swerved out of the seeding process, leaving behind a system absent credibility.
Current seeding procedures, which place undue emphasis on geography at the expense of competitive balance, are undermining the integrity of the game for cheap (not so cheap, actually) ratings grabs. The further away the selection committee has strayed from the S-curve — the outmoded seeding system that pairs the best 1-seed with the worst 2-seed, the worst 2 with the best 3 and so on — the more unbalanced the brackets are becoming. And not by coincidence.
Let the Midwest Region — heck, the entire Final Four field, for that matter – - serve as the final smoking gun: The present seeding system is fractured and the S-curve is the only way to fix it.
Only bad logic can justify why Louisville, the best team in the field, ended up in a region with the most accomplished 2-seed (Duke) and arguably the most dangerous No. 3 (Michigan State). Nothing short of a screwy formula can explain why the tournament’s top two teams squared off in the Elite Eight, not in the championship game or even national semifinal.
Second-seeded Duke, despite a résumé deserving of a No. 1 seed, was banished to the least desirable region because of trifling geographical “advantages” – namely, saving a few flight miles to play in front of 40,000 Louisville fans in the regional final. If Mike Krzyzewski had his say, the Blue Devils would’ve preferred a 2-seed in the South, where a weaker No. 1 seed (Kansas) claimed the top spot. Duke would’ve settled for any seed in the West, perhaps the frailest region of all-time, in lieu of the draw it got instead.
This mess of a seeding system didn’t allow for rational decision-making. As the letter of the law stipulates, because Durham is closer in proximity to Indianapolis (Midwest host site) than either Arlington (South) or Los Angeles (West), the committee deemed the Midwest Duke’s most favorable region. Never mind that the competition in the Midwest was stiffest, or that Louisville would have a virtual home game in a potential Elite Eight match-up (so much for those geographical perks). Location dictated Duke’s assignment, smothered all other considerations. Mapquest trumped quality of competition.
As long as geography is valued ahead of competitive balance, expect the West Region to become an NIT subset of the NCAA tournament. The West has accommodated the lowest quality talent pool in each of the last three tournaments, in line with when the committee ditched the S-curve for good. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Most of the consistent, top-performing programs are scattered across the East Coast and Midwest and wind up in local regions for geographical convenience.
Five of the eight regional finalists hailed from the East, the other three from the Central. No team from the Pacific or Mountain West time zones advanced past the Sweet 16, this despite its three best teams (Gonzaga, New Mexico and Arizona) occupying the softest region. The Mountain West Conference pulled its usual fail and bail act in the NCAA tournament, the Pac-12 was mediocre from top to bottom and the West Coast Conference ran just one-deep. Structuring regions according to location will create a natural imbalance as long as half of the regional sites reside west of the Mississippi, where far fewer than half of the top programs reign.
In the best interest of a tournament with overflowing parity and diminishing credibility, the S-curve must replace geography in the seeding process. Punishing top-flight programs based east of the Mississippi by lumping them with neighbors equally strong isn’t fair, not when western schools are being gift-wrapped favorable pods and still fumbling the opportunity.
Remember, future selection committees, you can’t spell “selection” or “seeding” without “S.” It’s not too late to restore your lone credibility saver.