An Open Letter on the NCAA Tournament

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 8:41 PM

Dear Selection Committee, you need to know that Michigan State, Clemson, Virginia Commonwealth, and Georgia don’t belong in the field. Right off the top. Also include Penn State and Illinois. Harvard, Colorado, and Virginia Tech do belong, but aren’t there. Include Missouri State, and St. Mary’s. Frankly, this was the worst job you’ve ever done in the 26 years since we went to (at least) 64 teams.

By the way, the “play-in” games are NOT the “first round.” Call them “preliminaries” because that’s what they are. Furthermore, these games should not include teams from major conferences. None at all. The major benefit of expanding the field from 64 to 68 is and should be to allow teams from so-called “mid-major” conferences to prove they belong with the big boys. Gonzaga is now a power school in just a few years; Butler advanced all the way to the final game last year, losing to Duke by two points and a quarter-inch.

We know you operate by reputation – that is why you gave Butler an 8 seed when they would not have been included at all without last year’s run. We all love Coach Izzo of Michigan State, he’s proven to be likely among the 3 best coaches in America, but we all know that Michigan State does not belong.

(Note to the news media: A team who doesn’t belong in the field that wins a play-in game has not “proven they belong.” This has always been about earning the right to play for all the marbles, not about possessing the skills to win them.)

The Colorado Buffaloes of the Big 12 finished 8-8 in a tough league and had three wins over Kansas State, (a tourney team) Texas (currently ranked #10 in the nation) and Missouri (23-10; in the tournament). I suspect they were punished by the teams in their own league for bolting the conference for the expanded Pac 12 next season.

You have already been corrupt enough to make the phrase “student-athlete” into a bad joke; if you can’t give us the best, most just tournament field in spite of this, what good are you? And who are these people on the committee? Rumor has it you do not have enough basketball people there. Isn’t this a basketball tournament?

The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team is under investigation for major recruiting violations by their head coach, Bruce Pearl. He has already been suspended this season for the first 8 games of Southeastern Conference (SEC) play. ESPN conducted anonymous surveys among men’s coaches as part of its “Outside the Lines” series, inquiring into the nature and depth of recruiting violations and the SEC was the worst.

Pearl is not the only one, but the NCAA needs to come down hard. They don’t want to be forced into enacting their toughest penalty: termination of a program, nicknamed “the death penalty” at its invocation against Southern Methodist University football in 1987. But, if the NCAA has its hand in this multibillion-dollar pie, can we reasonably expect them to truly police the system which creates it?

I agree with several commentators that academics should be a part of the rankings and strength of schedule calculations that (allegedly) decide the basketball championship selections. More academically focused programs are justified in suspecting that the extreme to which money and politics drive the selection is even greater than the extreme to which academics fails to serve as a significant influence.

Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor and senior sports writer for Open for Business.