Dickey: NCAA Tournament filled with flaws 

Anyone thinking college football should follow the basketball example and have a tournament to decide No. 1 should take a close look at what’s happening with the ongoing March Madness. If this tournament truly decides who’s No. 1, it will be strictly accidental.

The BCS system certainly has its flaws, but the one thing it does is to reward excellence in the season. Basketball is quite different. Conferences have tournaments after the completion of the season for the usual reason — money — and a team that wins the conference tournament gets in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of its season record.

The regular-season champion has no incentive to win the tournament — indeed, it can be an advantage to lose early, to have more time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament — and so, the winner is often another team.

That happened in the Pac-10 Conference this year. Cal won the conference championship, but Washington got hot in late season and won the conference tournament.

Now, Washington is in the Sweeet 16 and Cal isn’t. I wish the Huskies well. I like Lorenzo Roomar, whom I’ve known since he played for the Warriors, and I always like to see Pac-10 teams do well, because it’s so easy for the Eastern media to diss them. But who are we kidding? It’s a travesty for the Huskies to be where they are. And they’re not alone.

Eight teams seeded fifth or lower in their regionals are in the Sweet 16. Great theater, but it’s no way to determine a national champion.

This is not unprecedented. There was even one year when Arizona finished fourth in the Pac-10 and won the national championship.

Basketball is a fluky game because individuals and teams vary widely from game to game on their shooting accuracy, so performances go up and down; Cal was 21-1 when its shooting percentage was higher than the other team, 7-10 when it was lower.

There was less chance of a fluky champion in the early years of the tournament because there were far fewer teams in the tournament and they all had to earn their way into it with a top-notch season record.

When USF won back-to-back titles in 1955-56 and Cal won in 1959 and finished runner-up the next year, there were only 16 teams, all conference champions.

Now, there are 65 (including one team which has to win a playoff game to get in), and there is even talk of expanding to 96.

Money, again. The TV networks would pay more because the audience is there.

That doesn’t particularly bother me, because it would give more players the opportunity to play in the tournament.

And unlike football, players would not be likely to risk lifelong injuries by playing more games.

March Madness is a lot of fun. Many people who are usually borderline fans of college basketball get involved through office pools, and the talk of brackets fills the air. Even President Barack Obama had one.

Just don’t think of it as the best way to decide No. 1 — or as a model for college football.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

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