For the mere sake of TV ratings, the NCAA Tournament installed “play-in” games a few years ago, where eight teams play for four spots in the first round of March Madness. This boosted the overall field from 64 teams go 68 teams, giving the illusion that the tournament was more open for the “little guys” to get in.
It’s clear how silly this is when two of the play-in games involve teams that are given the “No. 11 seed” designation. Clearly, those teams are better than the numerous teams awarded No. 12, No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 seeds—yet those lower-quality teams aren’t forced into a silly, made-for-TV spectacle. Why not?
The argument is that no one will watch eight small-school teams play for the right to face a No. 1 seed in the opening rounds. That doesn’t fly, as the TV ratings from March Madness over the years have shown that college sports fans will watch anything that’s on when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Heck, everyone seems to watch the one-hour Selection Sunday show, and no one is even playing the actual game.
This year, four teams from major conferences are playing in the 11-seed “play-in” games: Kansas State, Providence, USC and Wake Forest. This basically punishes those four teams for being good enough to make the tournament but being big enough that they have to be put on parade. Heck, the Trojans won 24 games this year and beat UCLA, one of the top teams in the bracket. Why do they have to prove themselves one more time to get into the “real” bracket?
One of the No. 16 seeds playing in one of these superfluous games is UC Davis, a former Division II powerhouse athletic school that made the jump to Division I a decade or so ago. The Aggies are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The “play-in” games are built for Cinderella teams like this, and the fans gladly watch eight teams like UC Davis battle it out.
Instead, the Wildcats, the Friars, the Trojans and the Demon Deacons will face each other in another test of their mettle when they have already proven it beyond a reasonable doubt.