On Thursday afternoon, the NCAA revealed the approved changes to bracketing rules for the NCAA tournament, starting with this coming spring's event. Overall, the new approach seems to make sense, with the goal to keep teams closer to true seed once they're placed in the bracket by relaxing conference and regular-season rematch restrictions. In a media conference call following the release, Wake Forest athletic director and selection committee chairman Ron Wellman said that 90 percent of the seed-line moves in the last three NCAA tournaments would have been eliminated under these new procedures.
Here are the main rules changes coming in 2014.
* How early conference rivals can meet in the tournament will now be based on how many times they have already played prior to the tournament. If teams only have played once previously, they can be bracketed to meet as early as the "third round" (i.e. Round of 32). If they have played twice, they can't meet before the Sweet 16. If they already have played three times, they can't have a potential matchup until the Elite Eight.
* The rule that required the top three seeds from a particular conference to be put into different regions has been changed. Now, the top four teams from a league will be separated only if they all land within the top four seed lines (i.e. top 16 teams on the 1-68 seed list).
"It is important we avoid the top teams from leagues receiving multiple bids to the tournament from playing one another when they are seeded in the first quadrant," said Wellman in the NCAA release. "But after those first four lines are seeded, we want to remain as true to the seed lines as possible."
* The committee will avoid regular-season nonconference rematches in the First Four, and also in the Round of 64, if possible. If two teams from the same conference are in the First Four, any of the rules can be relaxed to help accommodate that scenario.
Generally speaking, these rules changes seem to make sense on first glance. Relaxing the rule that required the top three teams from a league to be placed into different conferences is a big plus. That will allow the committee to stay closer to real seeds and not punish teams, especially those from slightly smaller conferences, where the best team from a league previously could be squeezed out of a preferred region due to conference conflicts elsewhere. It also will diminish the number of situations like last season, where Indiana was perceived to be "playing for Indianapolis" against Michigan and other Big Ten contenders. In theory, both of those teams could now be in the same region (as the 1 and 2) as long as there weren't four Big Ten teams in the top four seed lines (as there were last season).
It also probably will mean that one-bid conferences and other non-major conference champs won't be as much of "bracket free agents" in the sense that they get plugged in last after the major-conference conflicts were addressed. That was a large factor in a lot of the "mid-on-mid violence" you saw in previous year's events, as teams could only slide into certain spots based on conference membership.
As much as these rules may make bracket projections a little harder to do by hand, they look like guidelines that will help the tournament going forward. I hope the committee also spends more of its gathering time on the bracket placement process, to help create the fairest and most interesting tournament possible. On the call, Wellman said that the committee would be establishing timing benchmarks for the five-day process, trying to allot a specific amount of time for the actual bracketing of the event. Now if they would just address the ridiculousness of referring to the play-in games as the first round, creating a second round where 60 teams are playing for the first time, we'll be on to something...