Great Debate: Bellamy

Let’s just say, for the purposes of this argument, that I’m not a particularly diligent student. This is not totally true, and it is not totally untrue — but in this case, let’s just go with it.

In fact, we’ll expand on it a little. Say I go to class every day, but I don’t do any of the reading. I bomb every pop quiz. I got a D-minus on the midterm, and that was only because it was graded on a curve. Say we had three or four papers due throughout the semester, and I completely failed all of them.

This, as you can see, is the very definition of a bad student — a student who definitely does not deserve to pass this particular class. I’ve made my bed, and I have to sleep in it.

Or do I?

But please teacher?isn’t there a way I could be a super-duper-good student for a few days, ace one test and let that completely make up for everything? Couldn’t I then get an A-plus?

Well, if the classroom were anything like college hoops, the answer would be a resounding “yes.” I could right all my wrongs with three days of inexplicable dedication to my schoolwork, because in college hoops there exists the very exciting — but very silly — tradition of conference tournaments.

They are not silly in concept, and like everyone else I always enjoy watching them. But the fact that the winners of such tournaments get automatic bids to the NCAA flies in the face of any sense of fair play. People seem to accept it because that’s just the way it is and because the tourneys themselves make for good television. I’m not disputing that last part, and in a sense it’s a good point — if it’s all about providing a good, exciting product for the fans, then by all means the system works beautifully.

Except it doesn’t. Every time Selection Sunday rolls around, controversy hits the fan. Every year, a half-dozen teams (or more) that rightfully deserve a place somewhere in the nation’s select 65 get the proverbial shaft. Analysts and writers complain, coaches complain and you know we fans let our voices get heard louder than anybody’s — complaining about the snubs is as time-honored a tradition as filling out our brackets.

But why should we have to? OK, so maybe some of us like complaining. But really, it’s kind of a hassle most of the time. Even now — I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be complaining about the system of arguably the greatest sporting month of the year. It saddens me.

But how many more times, how many more years, do we have to hear about some 19-win team in a competitive mid-major conference getting left out of the tournament — and force-fed to that rotting joke of a basketball exhibition they call the NIT — before we start examining the system of the NCAA Tournament selection process?

I understand that giving conference tournament winners automatic bids to the conference may help small-conference schools. But shouldn’t we expect the selection board to know enough about college basketball to be able to pick out the best small-school teams without having a four-day tournament decide it for them?

We complain about the BCS, but can you imagine if any other prominent sport organized its postseason selection process like NCAA basketball? Isn’t it entirely feasible that, if the NBA held divisional tournaments before the playoffs every year, a team like the Boston Celtics could go on a three-day hot streak and somehow squeeze its way into the playoffs? And wouldn’t that be completely ridiculous? Of course it would.

The fact is that winning a conference tournament — no matter how strong or weak the conference, no matter the quality of any team’s performance — means nothing other than the fact that you played well for three days. Sometimes, it’s just a fluke. Always, it undermines the entire rest of the college-basketball season. If all that matters is this week, then why even have a regular season?

The objective of the NCAA Tournament should be to have the most competitive tourney possible, with the most successful teams possible. That means that when a nationally ranked team like Utah State, circa 2005, doesn’t get an invite because it doesn’t win its conference tournament, there’s a huge problem. Especially when there are clearly inferior teams that get bids. This happens every year. Look, if you finish with a 14-12 regular-season record and then beat a bunch of crappy teams in a crappy three-day tournament for a crappy league, I’m not impressed. You’re not a good team. You’re only in by default.

I’m not saying this means we should see more big-conference teams in the tourney — far from it. There are loads of small schools that get the shaft every year. And why? Because they had an off day and lost a second-round conference tournament game? But some sub-.500 team that had a three-day hot streak is somehow deserving? Please.

There’s too much on the line — for the players, for the schools, for the fans — to trivialize the tournament with such outdated policies. It’s unnecessary. March Madness deserves better.