Photo: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
What is Sportsopoly? Spirited commentary, features and more. Add it to your sports diet. Read my welcome here.
Even the hardest-core homer of a basketball fan couldn't help rooting for another squad this year, the now-ousted Peacocks of Saint Peter's University, energizing the NCAA men's tournament by accomplishing something unprecedented -- becoming the first 15th seed to reach the Elite Eight.
But it's time for the seeds to be fed to the birds and flown to Neveragainland.
The committee drawing up these brackets that the nation obsesses over in March and early April is responsible for what really amounts to madness, of their creation, not of our fandom. Inadvertently and, perhaps subconsciously, the committee is forecasting winners and losers, something it should not be in the business of doing, even before the opening tip.
By referencing St. Peter's as a 15th seed and their first opponent, Kentucky, as a No. 2, the prevailing wisdom immediately suggested a lopsided affair was in the offing when, of course, it turned out to be anything but.
The much larger and perennial power UK Wildcats were "stunned" by the little school from Jersey City that could, which went on to win twice more against teams (No. 7 Murray State, No. 3 Purdue) it wasn't supposed to defeat before exiting the tournament this past weekend in a rout by North Carolina (No. 8 seed).
I'm not suggesting the seeding system used by most sports bodies deserves ditching but this one does for one key reason: There are no competitive benefits given to teams in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship based on seeding, as the sites are generally considered "neutral," meaning they're not typically played on a campus.
By comparison, seeding in the companion women's tournament (first/second rounds), for example -- and those for pro leagues' playoffs -- reward a home advantage.
The solution for the men's tournament is for the committee to continue using the seeding system to inform its closed-door discussions and generate the regional matchups. Once the bracket is complete the committee should simply announce the pairings, sans seeds. In other words, keep it to yourself, committee.
It will take a few cycles before we are weaned off seeds altogether and stop referring to them incessantly, even though it will always be fairly clear how the committee feels about each entrant by studying the flow of the bracket. However, they could add a bit of mystery by jumbling the physical presentation of the brackets, so that, say, the No. 1 vs. No. 16 game appears in a different spot than another region's, just as the No. 8 vs. No. 9 tilt isn't in the same location in more than one region.
Still following me? Good!
Losing public seeding designations will prove helpful in a variety of ways.
For one, broadcast announcers would be forced to call a straighter game, without constantly interjecting how a lower-seeded team is "surprising" everyone with their play. By extension, eliminating the seeds could also buoy the confidence of lesser-known programs when they don't have to read stories or see TV reports about the tall task facing them against so-and-so No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed.
Why must it be No. 15 St. Peter's against No. 2 Kentucky anyway? Peacocks versus Wildcats is plenty for me. And, unless one hasn't followed college basketball more than a day or two, it's readily apparent who the underdogs are.
Additionally, we all depend on game officials to be fair and objective in how they manage a contest. Any and every contest. Let's face it, though, they're human, and, like the rest of us, are susceptible to the tugs of implicit bias. If that No. 1 seed has an off night and is struggling, is an official capable of giving them a favorable call or three simply because the official expects better of them? Or whistling unfavorable calls against a well-performing longshot because the official expects less of them? Certainly. We need to do more to take away this temptation.
Finally, and this is not trivial, but maybe gamblers will invest more study into their picks before laying money on a game, rather than using mostly arbitrary seeds as a guide. Remember, "upsets" are usually HUGE wins for sportsbooks, as a disproportionate amount of the action is likely resting on the favorite. If more of those dollars find their way onto teams anticipated to lose that wind up winning, it could sting the books a bit more often. And, naturally, that's always a good thing. Sorry, Caesar and friends.
The 'Cinderella' narrative is fun, for sure. It adds excitement to the big dance. We just don't need seeds to tell us when the shoe fits. We'll know .. instantly. They tap so, so sweetly.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!