ESPN analyst has a brilliant idea for how to fix the NCAA Tournament

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March Madness is here and the brackets are set. But once again, rather than celebrating the teams that are in, most are bemoaning a system that seemingly selects teams based on a new formula each year and whatever criteria that year’s selection committee arbitrarily deems important.

But there is hope. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has a plan and it is pretty genius.

Bilas explained how his system would work on ESPN Radio:

  • Tournament selection committee would meet prior to the conference tournaments and rank the top 68 at-large teams.
  • Teams that win conference tournaments receive automatic bids. If that team is not one of the 68 teams, the lowest-ranked team in the field of 68 is knocked out.

The key here is, a team cannot improve their standing in the conference tournaments unless they actually win the entire thing. Instead, we know exactly which teams are in the tournament at any given time during the conference tournaments. We know what teams need to do to get in and who gets knocked out if they do.

There are two key benefits to The Jay Bilas Plan. The first is that this puts emphasis back on the regular season. At this point, the regular season means little and teams on the cusp know they have a second shot if they can make a little run in their conference tourney. With this plan, teams either have to take care of business in the regular season or they have to win it all in the conference tournament. No more taking a little from each and back-dooring into the tournament.

The second benefit of Bilas’ plan is that it eliminates the unfair advantage big-conference schools have in their conference tournaments. The résumé of a smaller conference team is actually hurt in their conference tournaments since they are more likely to play the weakest teams in a lesser conference, while a mid-tier team in a power conference is going to play teams that will increase their strength of schedule.

Bilas explains:

“The mid-majors, the non-power-conference teams, [currently] do not have any opportunities to help themselves with games in Championship Week. Actually, a mid-major team plays a game, their RPI (ranks teams based on record and strength of schedule) goes down, just by playing the game … So, what ends up happening is a team like Michigan, they get extra shots at it. They get like three shots to win high-quality games and vault past a team like Monmouth or somebody else.”

The example Bilas cites refers to the Big Ten Tournament where Michigan beat top-seeded Indiana on a buzzer-beater. Even though they lost their next game, that one win was apparently enough to get the Wolverines into the tournament even though they were likely out before that one big win.

For the fans, the plan is great because it helps to make sense of a confusing week. As it stands now, fans are at the whim of so-called “bracketologists” to make educated guesses as to which teams are on the bubble and which teams have done enough in their postseason tournament to get into The Big Dance. However, under Bilas’ plan, everything is clear. If Team A wins their conference tourney, they are in, and Team B is knocked out.

As Bilas notes, the system levels the playing field and has just as much drama for the fans, if not more.

More importantly, we still get to fill out brackets.

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