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NCAA Tournament 2008 -- Time for some changes

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OK, I've kept my peace on this as long as I can, but after last nights' game between North Carolina and Louisville, enough is enough.

It's just plain wrong for North Carolina to wind up playing a regional final game in it's home state.  Look, this has nothing to do with North Carolina -- they didn't lobby for this spot, it was determined far in advance.  This criticism has nothing whatever to do with the Tarheels or their fans.  It has everything to do with the NCAA.

Theoretically, the NCAA tournament is about competing at neutral sites.  Now, I understand the rationale for playing the first round or two near the higher seed's home.  But for a regional final to be played 2 1/2 hours away from one of the teams' campus is just wrong.  It is a huge, and frankly unfair advantage for that team.  The game last night between Louisville and North Carolina looked to me like at least a 50-1 advantage for Carolina.  That should never happen in a regional final due to the contest being in the top seed's home state.  If UNC's fans travel well enough to get that done in, say, Houston or Detroit, fine.

So what can the NCAA do?  Several things.  First off, do away with the "pod" system.  It introduces an additional complication into the tournament seeding process, and is directly responsible for the kind of thinking that produces needless inequities like we saw last night.  In this writer's opinion, the pod system doesn't work anyway, and introduces unnecessary distortion into the the committee's work.  Just eliminate it.

Second, do away with the ridiculous geographical regional system.  It is silly, and forces the kind of bizarre reasoning that top seeds should play in their geographical area.  Do away with it.  Call them regions I-IV or 1-4 or A-D, or whatever you like.  But the "regional" names are designed to justify just the sort of thing we have been seeing in the last several years.  Stop it, and let's get the later games of the tournament as neutral as possible.

Finally, arrange the top seeds so that they have no chance of playing a regional final in their home state.  Make sure they are as close as reasonably possible without placing them inside a 200 mile radius.

Of course, you can't arrange every potential game to avoid the home court.  For example, what if Arizona were in the regional finals in Phoenix?  And what of Texas, playing it's regional final game in Houston?  Louisville played a second round game last year in Lexington, a mere 60 miles away from Louisville's campus.  But frankly, I am not concerned with these sorts of things happening in the regional semifinals and below, that is just the way things go, and Texas is a #2 seed.  I think the NCAA should avoid #1 seeds getting a home court advantage late in the tournament.  That is just wrong, in my opinion, and adds an extra dimension to the seeding process that unfairly tilts the table in favor of the #1 seeds, who automatically get what is presumably the easier path to the regional final by dint of their seeding.  How much advantage should having a top seed hold?

There is no justifiable reason a top seed's fans should get an easier path to the game site -- none.  The tournament is entirely too tilted toward accommodating top seeds, and it's time that came to an end.  As for the championship game itself, that is another matter.  Those sites are chosen years in advance, and there is no way to ensure that one team or the other doesn't enjoy an advantage there -- that's just luck of the draw.  For example, if Texas wins through to the final, they will get to play their Final Four game(s) in San Antonio.  But it just so happens that Texas is a finals possibility (as of this writing) on a year in which San Antonio is the Final Four destination.  That can't be helped, but situations like Carolina playing in Charlotte are completely avoidable.

It would be fine if you could also arrange neutral-site regional finals for the 2 seeds as well, but the deeper you go, the more logistics problems emerge, and my primary concern is that the top seeds don't get more advantages than they already enjoy.  What I would have liked to see is Carolina playing in the Detroit regional, Memphis playing in Charlotte and Kansas in Houston.  That would have been much more fair for everyone.  And if a lower seed winds up with a geographical advantage over a top seed, I say fine, that's the luck of the draw.  The top seeds should be expected to have to defend themselves against the occasional partisan crowd -- that's why they are top seeds.  Let's stop treating them like getting an easy path to the final eight isn't enough of an advantage.

Now, what about the theory that, "If anyone should be rewarded, it is the teams that have earned it during the season."  To that, I say fine, reward them with a favorable seed and early round games close to home.  But the tournament loses it's "neutral site" character when top seeds get to play for a Final Four berth in front of as many home fans as you can pack into an arena.

Even Tarheel-country sportswriters can't help but notice the absurdity.  From the Ashville, NC Times-Citizen:

Has there ever been a more exciting day of college basketball at one venue? The winners were two No. 12 and two No. 13 seeds, none of the eight teams within two states of Florida.

In Raleigh the same day, thousands of Davidson fans sang "Sweet Caroline" as their 10th-seeded Wildcats rallied past No. 7 seed Gonzaga in first-round play.

Davidson hadn't won a NCAA tournament game since 1969, but a lower seed got to play two hours from home and a higher seed in the Big Dance for the 10th straight season got a cross-country plane trip for a road game.

Later at the RBC (Rented by Carolina) Center, a Mount St. Mary's team fresh off a win in the play-in game got the top-seeded Tar Heels in a sea of Carolina Blue.

The Tar Heels extended their record to 22-1 all-time in NCAA games played in-state.

"It felt like a home game," said North Carolina guard Ty Lawson.

That's not right.
Exactly.  It's not right.  The idea that top seeds should get every conceivable advantage, including "home" games in the regional final is absolutely wrong, and it's time to have something done about it.  In fact, it is way past time.

But lest you be inclined to blame North Carolina for this debacle, let Gary Parrish disabuse you of that idea:
And North Carolina is the home team in this set-up, thanks to the selection committee placing UNC in Charlotte. Which is where the Tar Heels ought to be, by the way. Don't get it twisted. They were the No. 1 overall seed in this NCAA tournament, the obvious top seed for the East Region. So while in other years that would've meant an Elite Eight game in New York (2005), New Jersey (2006) or D.C (2007), this year it means an Elite game in North Carolina, and North Carolina should not be blamed for the NCAA's scheduling.
He's right -- North Carolina is blameless.  They did nothing wrong -- to the contrary.  Even Ol' Roy claiming that it is no real advantage doesn't bother me, he is surely entitled to that opinion, and I don't believe for a minute he would complain about playing in Detroit rather than Charlotte.

But Parrish goes on:
There are some Louisville fans and a lot of North Carolina fans walking the streets of Charlotte, and that's basically how it'll break down Saturday night inside the arena. Some vs. A lot. And for those who do not think it matters, I would invite you to explain how North Carolina is 24-1 (96 percent) in NCAA tournament games played inside the state of North Carolina and just 71-37 (66 percent) in NCAA tournament games played outside the state of North Carolina.

That's not a coincidence.

So again, don't blame the Tar Heels for having an advantage.

It's not their fault.

But make no mistake, they do have an advantage.

And anybody trying to tell you otherwise is full of, well, crap.
Indeed.  This is a problem the NCAA should address.  Enough of home games in regional finals for #1 seeds.  Let's get them out of the way in the early part of the tournament.  The top seeds have plenty of built-in advantages without playing for the Final Four in their home state.