By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) It will happen again Sunday evening, as it does every year.
The NCAA tournament field is revealed on CBS, the broadcast bouncing around the country: from the anchor desk to some packed gymnasium in Podunk, and then to a lavishly-appointed film room at Big Money State, as the respective teams celebrate their inclusion.
Then it’s out to wherever the committee was meeting, and the chairperson explains how the “tough calls” were made “with so many deserving teams this year.”
The list of now-forlorn, NIT-bound schools is shown, and at least one fandom takes to the airwaves, message boards and social media to decry the unfairness of the evil cabal that has shut them out. They’ll create outlandish conspiracy theories involving venal athletic directors and television executives, then try to use cherry-picked numbers and illogical, transitive-property game results that supposedly prove the system failed them.
They rarely stop to consider that what really failed was their team, which didn’t win enough games.
Comparing relative RPI and SOS is a loser’s effort after the fact, whether it’s a big-time, historic program colliding with powerful, in-conference foes all season, or little Southwest Cornmeal College with its 27 wins against bums.
For the former, you get the built-in advantages of a stronger schedule and national television exposure. Make something more of it, like recruiting better players that improve your record. For the latter, your Bible Belt Conference tournament title comes with a precious automatic bid – win the damn thing, even if you do so in front of nobody, underneath Arena Football division-title banners in some sad, midsized civic center.
And be a good story, since that matters. Potential viewership interest is a criterion for selection, seeding and matchups – whether anybody admits it or not — so having a recognized coach with a dramatic narrative may improve a school’s chances. It also helps to have an individual player or two worth watching. I’d suggest the gritty, overachieving white kid who has faced doubters since grade school, the exotic foreign guy who only discovered basketball last year and was spotted by a grad assistant during an intramural Ultimate Frisbee game, or the inner-city orphan on his fifth school who survived gang crossfire long enough to outgrow his sketchy past and Put His Life Back Together.
Whatever way, take your fate out of the hands of the committee by deciding it yourselves. Be a better basketball team that will be compelling to watch.
What may be making things more sensible with each passing season is the daily information available from the moment the season begins. Amateur and professional “bracketologists” (ugh) are demystifying the entire process, constantly updating the probabilities to take any shock out of the results.
The committee, now, looks less like a secretive congregation electing a pope, and more like a group just rubber-stamping what is already widely known. That’s good for everyone.
Any team that misses the NCAA tournament deserved to miss it. Next year, do something about it.
One of the most satisfying aspects of sports is the existence of the scoreboard.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.