Wednesday March 17th, 2010

There are things in sport that every wise, clear-thinking, informed person -- like me -- wants changed. These include:

• The NFL overtime rule.

• The idiotic way the college football championship is determined.

• That pretentious saccharine ceremony after the Masters when they put the tacky green jacket on the new champion. (Didn't we use to say "gag me with a spoon" for icky things like that?)

How much a finer, lovelier world it would be if wiser heads prevailed and all those terrible things could be fixed.

Rather, the reverse. Yes, now some numbskulls are suggesting a way to screw up the one best things in sports. They actually want to add teams to the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Sixty-five isn't enough. Let's have 96. Let's have 128. This would mean that something like the eighth-best team in the Atlantic Southwestern Conference would be playing the sixth-best team in the Big Whatever in the national championship tournament. Any bar that watered the drinks down that much would be out of business before Happy Hour.

Mostly, it seems, the geniuses who want to dilute March Madness are basketball coaches. Hey, let's be honest: These guys don't want more teams in the NCAAs. They just want more fellow coaches in the NCAAs. It's bad enough we have grade inflation for students. Now we'll have résumé inflation for coaches. Can't we just keep letting Dick Vitale do that all by himself?

The other reason to expand the field is that there must be a conspiracy to finally find a way to get Northwestern into the tournament.

The way it is now, March Madness has it just right. Nobody gets any byes. Nobody gets any home-court advantage. They played one game Tuesday night and everybody else starts Thursday and Friday. Then the regionals. Then the Final Four. Very neat -- the most symmetrical championship around.

And it attracts all that extra interest because all those citizens who don't know basketball from badminton fill out brackets down at the office and hope for a little jackpot. Listen, you take the NCAAs up to 96 or 128 and all of a sudden the fun of brackets is going to feel more like a chore. It'll be like having to do your taxes.

Look, I understand: College basketball does feel a little slighted. As the Super Bowl carries football into February, the window when college hoops reign supreme diminishes. Since March Madness is its moment in the sun, it naturally want to make more of that, but too much of a bad thing is not the answer.

The charm of the NCAA basketball tournament is that it's like American Idol, Dancing With The Stars and all those other reality shows. Every game is an elimination. We may love to say that second chances are sooo very American, but in playoffs, the vicarious thrill is knowing that the loser is finished, gone, kaput, extinguished. It's mean, but that's why we watch. But also, like those reality shows, you must have some appreciation of who's competing, or you just can't raise enough bile to care who loses.

Add more teams, more games, more weeks, and you'll turn March Madness into March Monotony.

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