NCAA should find way to make four play-in games fun


Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 11:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 11:55 p.m.

Now that we have an answer, there are more questions.

The NCAA has backed away from the ridiculous 96-team field that would have damaged the game and decided instead to go with 68 teams, as so many of us thought would be a better solution. Once CBS and Turner went all Dwight Howard to swat ESPN's shot, we were spared the bracket from hell.

For now.

It's probably coming down the road and the road is neither long nor winding. Still, this year this is our tournament, 68 teams with four play-in games.

How will this all take shape? Where, when and who will we be looking at in March? Why do I ask so many questions?

“The committee will have to study any variety of options and certainly the notion of looking at options involving the last at-large teams in would be one possible option,” NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen told The Associated Press. “We would expect the committee to examine all of the options.”

Great. Now let's present a word that usually doesn't get bounced around at these committee meetings.

Fun.

As in, “Have some fun with it.”

Let's start with the who.

Who will play in the play-in games that will be required to get the field down to 64? I don't think it should be the bottom seeds. Currently, the bottom two teams in the seeding play the one game in Dayton on a Tuesday. Quick name the winner of this year's play-in game. Of any play-in game.

Nobody cares (except the two schools involved) which team will be served up as a sacrificial lamb to a No. 1 seed. It adds nothing to the tournament. It doesn't even feel like the tournament. The NCAA's Web site doesn't even have the play-in game on its official bracket. As I recall, I watched NIT games that night rather than the play-in game.

Instead, let's take the bottom eight at-large teams, the ones who just made it inside the bubble. Four games that will feel a lot more special and have a lot more intrigue than Sam Houston State vs. East Tennessee State. Instead, we would have had games such as Mississippi State-Illinois and Arizona State-Virginia Tech this year.

You can argue that it's not fair for better seeds to have to play the extra game. Don't care. It will be fun.

The when probably won't change. I can't see a way to play a traditional tournament with the Thursday-Saturday and Friday-Sunday games unless the play-in games take place on Tuesday.

So let's get to the where.

I put the question on my Twitter page and the responses were interesting. Some Tweeps liked the play-in game to take place at the Final Four site. I can't see that. The arenas are too big. Next year's Final Four is at Reliant Stadium in Houston. We still don't know how well-attended these games are going to be, and the last thing we want to see is tumbleweeds blowing through the empty stands.

But I wouldn't rule it out.

Certainly, I don't want to see the games played on campuses. That would make it feel like the NIT. And I think the best way to do this would be to have one site with four games to give it the big-time feel of a major event. You could play at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. I think I will ask for that day off.

Also, you would make sure the national media would be there, Tweeting and blogging like crazy. What self-respecting, major news organization wouldn't want to be at such an event? It probably will end up being held at two sites but I believe it would be more appealing at one.

Because schools will be traveling from all over the United States, it needs to be a central location. If Florida is playing in this mini-tournament, I recommend Hawaii. Hey, a guy has to try.

Here is my real recommendation and I'm sure the committee is looking to me for advice.

We need a major city. Check. The arena can't be too big, but it has to be able to handle a good-sized crowd. It needs to be in a place where they love their hoops.

How about Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis?

It has tradition (if you don't know by now, they filmed part of “Hoosiers” there) and seats around 11,000. Great city. Home to many Final Fours (the next one is in 2015). Basketball is a religion in Indiana.

OK, there you have it. We'll leave it to CBS to come up with a catchy name for our event. The Little Dance? March Mania? The Pre-Dance?

It would be, it could be, fun.

For us, anyway.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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