Men's Basketball

ESPN fails to bust brackets

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The misguided leader in sports coverage does more harm than good

By: Tommy Lopez

ESPN believes it has found a money making formula and a recipe to help less-covered colleges garner attention and reach the NCAA Tournament in scheduling 98 mid-major teams against each other, adding intriguing non-conference matchups, and tossing in national television coverage.

Since 2003, ESPN’s BracketBusters event has taken place to “pit potential NCAA Tournament hopefuls against each other” by having more than 170 mid-major schools leave this late February weekend open in their schedules to play another mid-major team away from their conference. Unfortunately, the strategy falls short like a desperation heave from half court.

There is only a slight chance that these teams will receive the national coverage they desire. They will get their two hours of fame if they are one of the lucky 22 schools selected to receive a televised game. If not, they are one of 170 plus schools stuck playing an awkward non-conference game which may require long distance travel late in the season.

Only a few of those 22 teams that get television coverage have a legitimate shot at an at-large NCAA Tourney bid. It’s great that ESPN is attempting to provide exposure to teams that don’t get much national coverage but to what extent are their efforts helping?

Nine teams in seven years have gone on the advance past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, most notably the 2006 George Mason team that got to the Final Four and the 2008 Davidson team that reached the Elite 8. In total, 570 teams have played in the event and only slightly more than one out of every six have even reached the big dance. The conclusion: very few of these teams end up ‘busting brackets’ in March.

Despite this, a fair number of teams that have gone on to play in the NCAA Tournament have played against each other in the BracketBusters event, which is phenomenal. In college football, a huge problem is teams in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and Mountain West Conference (MWC) don’t get to play against enough quality teams to crack the BCS and play for a national championship. The dilemma is right now in BracketBusters one mid-major has to step over another to help its chances at an at-large bid. If mid-majors really wanted an advantageous situation they would seek to be pitted against a team from a major conference.

It’s not as if college basketball fans are dying to see mid-major teams broadcasted to a national audience during the heart of conference play, despite how competitive some of the games turn out to be. How many SEC, ACC, or Pac-10 fans are going to tune in to the Nevada vs. Missouri State game Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPN 2? The national coverage isn’t doing a tremendous amount of good for these conferences.

Eighteen teams played in 2003 and 18 conferences had teams competing in 2006. The fact is, there are too many participating universities for this event to be beneficial to mid-major basketball. While one or two matchups may draw national attention and a team or two maybe aided by the extra out-of-conference win, there is too much hassle for the 170 teams involved.

This year the Siena at Butler game is by far the best matchup. These are two quality teams that may make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, if they make it in. But The BracketBusters field also includes Tennessee State and UT Martin who have a combined seven wins so far this season.

All 12 CAA teams will play this year. Northeaster, ODU, and Mason get three of the six total ESPN2 games while VCU and William & Mary round out the CAA teams seeing television coverage. The problem is they have been deferred to ESPNU. The 24-hour college sports network is on many cable and satellite providers nationwide, but not all. ESPNU is notorious for carrying games under their contract in cities where 90% of the residents can’t even watch the contest that’s happening 20 minutes away from their home.

As is stands I am not excited about VCU being seen “nationwide” on ESPNU and “getting national attention” this weekend. I do not care about Akron and their 111th best RPI (they’ve only played three teams with top-100 RPI and they’ve lost to all of them). I only want coach Smart and the guys to win so that they don’t lose momentum with a loss. If I were a fan of Rams basketball and I couldn’t make it to the game on Saturday I would listen to Robby Robinson on Ram Radio and/or follow the video feed on the athletics website. Rams fans, you have a right to be excited about this Saturday but don’t be too fooled by the hype. ESPN’s BracketBusters is a busted system and either needs to be renovated to include only the highest quality matchups or thrown in the trash and ignored, like ESPN’s usual attitude toward mid-major schools.

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1 Comment

  1. Samay Sappal

    February 20, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I’d much rather have another conference match-up this weekend than the Bracketbuster against Akron. That game doesn’t really make a difference for us. Our only real chance now of making it to the NCAA Championships is by winning the CAA Championships. Maybe another go at Mason in Siegel would have been nice this weekend and I’m sure true Rams Fans would agree ;-)

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