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NCAA Tournament Filled with Undeserving Teams

When did you first hear about brackets? Not wall brackets, you understand. In this all-American case, bracket is the etymological footnote to March Madness, the way the teams are designated to play out the NCAA tournament.

Everywhere else where you have this arrangement, as in, for example, tennis or match-play golf, it's called a draw. Only in our NCAA basketball do we have ... brackets.

Why? I don't know. But insiders now actually refer to "bracketology," the study of brackets, rather like we used to have "Kremlinology," when experts would study where the members of the Soviet presidium were located on the reviewing stand at the May Day parade.

What a shame. March Madness started out as the most homely, grassroots of our national championships. After all, it's divided up into regionals, and, quaintly, regional is really a word borrowed from high-school tournaments.

The NCAAs really was just sort of a giant high-school championship for colleges. For decades in the NCAAs there were the East, West, Midwest and Mideast regionals. I never heard the word "mideast" ever otherwise applied in America. It always sounded like Tel Aviv State and Amman A&M and Damascus Tech were going to play in the Mideast Regional.

They've changed the title of the old Mideast to the South, though. And never mind. Once the NCAAs became basically a television show and started sending teams every which a-way, geography got all blurred anyhow.

It used to be that if, for example, you were an Eastern team, you played in — guess what? — the East Regional. Now Florida is top seed in the Midwest, Ohio State in the South. Is the NCAA smarter than a fifth grader?

Sadly, March Madness is more like March Methodology now. Almost all of the at-large spots are assigned to also-ran teams in the big-money conferences who control the NCAA. Even teams that finish as low as eighth in a conference are invited in. Come on — fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth place, you make the playoffs? No.

Look at all this year's clutter in the brackets, run-of-the-mill conference losers: Arizona, Arkansas, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, Texas Tech, Villanova, Virginia Tech.

I'd trade that whole ordinary bunch just to see what little Drexel could do against the big boys. But Drexel doesn't have pedigree.

Can't the NCAA understand that what America wants is more unknowns, more underdogs, more surprises. Like George Mason last year. Gonzaga. Cleveland State. Valparaiso. Princeton. Winthrop this year. Go Winthrop!

But the NCAA and the bracketologists just worship their own skewed numbers. It's now a tournament run by accountants to please the fat cats. It's affirmative action for the powerful — March Mediocrity — like a rich child's birthday party where everybody gets a present.

They've forgotten that it's the charm, the mystique, the surprise factor that once made the NCAA so fun and special.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Morning Edition
Frank Deford died on Sunday, May 28, at his home in Florida. Remembrances of Frank's life and work can be found in All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and on NPR.org.