Since the College Football Playoff started three seasons ago, it’s had its hiccups here and there. But the largest one (among a few many saw coming) may be the weekly rankings reveal by the Selection Committee.
Starting in late October/early November, the committee works with ESPN to create an event around each week’s rankings, leading up to the final reveal in December.
It makes for some theater, and a lot of conversation — but more than that, the main result is teeth-gnashing, a sacrificial lamb spokesperson getting lampooned each week, and a lot of questions around the methodology of the committee.
So of course, college basketball wants to mimic this spectacle.
Announced today, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will now release their top 16 teams on February 11. These 16 teams will fill out the top four seeds in each of the four regions.
It will generate a lot of press and online conversation and Twitter yelling and network #HOTSPORTSTAKES. But it also won’t mean a damn thing come tournament time. One could easily argue it’s far less important than that already-unimportant CFP rankings.
Because while college football has a short schedule of 12 games, and rankings released around five (or so) of them, college basketball’s season is far more involved. In college football, a picture of the top 10-12 teams in late October/early November probably reveals a legitimate picture of who the top Playoff contenders are. In basketball? Not so much, with seven or eight regular season games remaining, plus conference tournaments still left to play. A team from WAY outside the top-16 could earn one of those seeds very easily by the time Selection Sunday rolls around.
Last week, resident SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean released his top 16 teams that were most likely to earn a No. 1 seed. Now THIS is a worthwhile exercise. The pool for who’s in line for one of the top four seeds is far smaller than what you’d need for the top 16 slots in the bracket, and it’s pretty unlikely a 1-seed comes from outside of that group by February.
Wait, top four teams? That sort of sounds a lot like the football selection show, right?
College basketball’s season has never needed a pre-tournament event like this, because the main event (March Madness) is already filled with enough drama and intrigue. It’s inclusive and expansive and surprising in the early goings, which is why people tune into those opening rounds.
Yes, the bluebloods usually win anyway, just like football. But creating pre-tournament rankings like this actually remove some of the excitement for teams outside of that top-16 group. A spot on one of the first four lines also guarantees you nothing in a 68-team playoff. So again, what’s the point of telling us who they might be in advance?
College basketball, while flawed in its own ways, just like football, at least has a large enough sample size and a decent-enough reliance on math (wins, losses, RPI, SOS, etc.) that its postseason selection process was already superior to college football’s. Yet, basketball is going to look to the inferior one (football) to guide its actions going forward.
None of this makes sense. But we’ll be posting about it the second the in-season rankings include the Syracuse Orange (not this year), and then talking about it along with the rest of college basketball fandom for weeks on end afterward. Like every other content publisher, you don’t really have a choice, even if the facts of those rankings are debatable at best.
As recent events have revealed, facts being debatable is now part of doing business. College basketball’s just falling in line with the rest of the world.