2014 NCAA Tournament: The First Four is fine but needs tinkering


It’s not really a shocker that it took CBS’ Gregg Doyel to start this year’s version of the First Four debate. As per the usual, Doyel does a great job conveying his points in a manner that makes most side with him. He does his usual spiel of telling the story from his direct, interactive perspective, leaving the reader with the travesty-of-injustice feeling.

Many of his points in his column are right. There are things about the First Four that leave you feeling less than thrilled about watching it as well as a little bit yucky for being a part of an event that is clearly a money grab — and it is, clearly, a money grab.

There is no arguing that. That is what big sports do, though. Try to squeeze every last dollar out of anything they can, even if the event itself is already so perfect, so lucrative, that it would make no sense to change it at all.

However, we have already reached the it is what it is portion of the First Four/play-in format. It is here. It is here to stay. Complaining about it will not make it go away. Now we have to adjust appropriately. More importantly than that, though, we need to embrace the good aspects of the First Four and the people in charge need to do some tinkering with it.

My biggest issue with the First Four is not with the fact that they are four games that start before the traditional round of 64 (our old, beloved first-round) begins. I actually think it is a good thing. The First Four shines a national spotlight on programs that would otherwise get lost in the Madness that is the round of 64 and subsequent upsets.

Without the First Four a team like Mount St. Mary’s would likely be just another 16 seed getting pounded by a top-seed in the first day of the tournament. With their game last night, in the apparent evilness that is the First Four, now plenty of people know more about this team and, much more importantly, the players who are on it. Don’t kid yourself by thinking you would know the awesomeness that is Will Miller, had they not played last night.

Same goes for more players. Even if they come to us via a bigger program. The ACC Player of the Year, T.J. Warren, was still a somewhat under-the-radar player entering last night’s action. Again, because the First Four gives each game an individual spotlight, a nation had the chance to take in all that is great about Warren hitting buckets in volume. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have happened on a Thursday at 3 in the afternoon, but far more people are home at night to watch the festivities.

There are some issues with the First Four. As much as I am propping this thing up as an event that we should embrace, I admittedly acknowledge a glaring problem. And, of course, it has to deal with money.

The winning teams in the First Four receive a whopping $1.5 million. That’s a lot of coin. It is especially a ton of loot for mid-majors. It also leaves the losing program in a wee-bit of disarray. Having worked so hard to “make” the NCAA Tournament, only to be put in the First Four, where the financials of it all can put a damper on the entire experience.

An easy solution to this does exist. Instead of having smaller programs battle it out for the right to represent the 16 seed, no automatic qualifiers (teams who won their conference tournament) should be forced to play in the First Four. Really, my proposal is to have solely at-large teams compete in the NCAA Tournament’s opening event.

Whether it be the last eight teams to get an at-large (which is decided by the Selection Committee) or even making it even more enticing by having the 8′s play the 9′s, it would certainly add to the value of the First Four as well as increase the entertainment value to the viewer.

The last eight teams in or the 8′s and 9′s being a part of the First Four wouldn’t solve all of it. That proposition leaves nearly no room for mid-majors to have that national shine that comes with playing in the First Four, as the last eight and the 8′s/9′s tend to be programs from power conferences.

Still, you hate the fact that the mid-majors have to endure the First Four, so this shouldn’t bother you at all.

Right?

It stinks. I certainly get it. You loved the original (but not actually original) Round of 64. However, those days have passed. It is now up to us to either embrace this new format or decide we don’t care at all. But complaining about it to the point of nausea is pointless. If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it.

The travesty is not that the mid-majors have to play in the First Four. The injustice isn’t about this being a money grab even though it clearly is. The actual shame of it all is that we spend way too much time complaining about the First Four instead of caring for the teams in it. The teams, mind you, that we are proclaiming injustices have been hurled upon them.

Want the First Four teams to get the most attention as possible? The kind that supposedly comes with playing in the Round of 64? Then watch it. Otherwise, well, you’re being a bit of a hypocrite.

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Tags: 2014 First Four 2014 NCAA Tournament First Four

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