March 1, 2013
The misguided lust of Valentine’s Day has long since faded, meaning it’s time for another crap shoot America has fallen in love with: the NCAA tournament. Fans like to believe their team’s entrance into the tournament, seeding and location of games are based on merit from the season’s accomplishments. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. The tourney is among the most lucrative sporting events in America, answering to outside parties to remain that way. The tourney’s new 14-year, $10.8 billion TV package is designed to boost ratings and lure advertising dollars from more profitable corporations. The new contract tosses around more cash than the TV packages of Major League Baseball or the NBA, falling just shy of the NFL’s deal with four major networks….and this is not for an entire season, but for a three-week blitz of collegiate hoops action. It’s easy to see how TV has driven changes to the tourney over the years: expansion to 64 teams in 1985, the addition of the four play-in games in 2011 and the “pod system”, which lets top seeds play close to home. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teams which draw more viewers are favored by the Selection Committee; they magically sneak in off ‘the bubble’, get higher seeds and get to play closer to home. Sorry Illinois fans, the Illini aren’t getting in The Dance solely due of their resume; they’ll be in because they draw massive Chicagoland viewership, boosting ratings. By the way – can anyone tell me the last time Duke or North Carolina DIDN’T play their first two tourney games in the state of North Carolina? I digress… Notice how many “intriguing” matchups the NCAA dreams up each year? Sorry to break your hearts, but that’s to boost ratings, folks. The tourney’s Selection Committee treats the event like it’s sweeps week, making quirky matchups between former coaches or lovers more of a story than the games themselves. All that being said, I love this time of the year and the thrilling road to March Madness. No matter how much the NCAA and its money screws up the tournament, it promises to be captivating television.