February Madness

It was announced last week that the NCAA Tournament selection committee will release the top 16 seeds on February 11, a month before the real bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday. I do not understand the point or the purpose of this decision, and we’ll probably never know if it has its intended effect.

Mark Hollis, the AD at Michigan State and selection committee chair, was open about the reasoning. Releasing the top four seeds in each region will give fans a “glimpse” to what the committee is thinking, he said. He is also excited about “creating a buzz” in advance of Selection Sunday.

This is, of course, a page out of college football’s playbook. Two-thirds of the way into the season, the football playoff committee releases its rankings. Unlike in football, the basketball rankings will be a one-time thing before the official bracket, as opposed to a weekly occurrence. (The NCAA has already revealed a 16-team women’s bracket and will do so twice more this season.)

The football rankings generate plenty of conversation. I’m just not sure they increase the amount of “buzz” surrounding college football. It seems to me that media and fans (and well-meaning podcasters) talk about the playoff rankings instead of other college football topics, not in addition to them, though it’s impossible to measure. Also, the premature football rankings show all the teams that, if the season ended at that moment, would make the postseason tournament. The basketball teams revealed in advance are just a fraction of those that will compete. My guess is the announcement will be a one-day story and then we’ll move on.

And that’s fine, since even the committee chair admitted the absurdity of seeding teams that will still have half a dozen regular season games to play in addition to their conference tournaments. “There’s potential for quite a bit of movement until we do it for real on March 12,” Hollis said. No kidding. How can we be expected to learn anything about the committee’s thought process when so much will change? Consider that potential top 16 teams still have to play each other: Florida State plays Notre Dame; Villanova plays Xavier; Gonzaga plays Saint Mary’s. And those are just the notable matchups on the day the seeds will be announced. (Related: NCAA basketball betting odds.)

Yes, I’m giving this silly idea some press, but I cover college basketball. The sport has long been eager to generate more interest with the general public outside of March. This decision is unlikely to move the needle. Casual fans curious about the “teams to watch” in preparation for the Big Dance need only to look at the weekly polls. The committee is probably going to see things similarly to the regular voters, as is often the case with the college football rankings. There will be some differences, but who cares? None of them will matter as teams win and lose their remaining games. It’s not like an undefeated Gonzaga is going to be left off the committee’s initial top 16 or anything like that. We’re not going to glean any information that’s both meaningful and surprising.

And again, that’s OK. These rankings may be pointless and ill conceived, but they’re also harmless.

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