Today's Lead: How to make the NCAA Play-In Game sexier:
Oh, I'll 'fess up willingly: I love the NCAA Play-In Game. But I'm finding it hard to articulate why. Maybe it's the utter futility of it:
How the two teams have the ignominy of SHARING a line in the printed bracket. Or how the losing team doesn't even get the thrill of playing on the first day of the Tournament.
Or how the game isn't included in bracket office-pools, even though it could be a total-point difference-maker!
I'm such a fan of the Play-In, I've even put in the thought to figure out a few suggestions of how to improve it -- to make it sexier, if you will:
(1) Stop playing it in
(Update: Already, I have heard from many fans in Dayton. I didn't mean to dis your town. I respect and appreciate your passion, particularly your warm and generous hosting of the Play-In game.)
(2) Give the Play-In loser an automatic bid (and home game) in the NIT. Seed 31 NIT teams but leave a slot open for the NCAA Play-In loser. Give them a chance to get more pub (and gate receipts) than the Play-In.
(3) Insist the Play-In be included as the annual NCAA Tournament bracket office-pool. The major stumbling blocks have been (a) pool organizers want to allow for as much time as possible for people to submit brackets, and (b) who cares: the Play-In winner has zero chance of beating a 1-seed. But it would get the pool-scoring off to a fast start and get people talking. "I'm winning my pool: 1 point!" Yeah, that means you have to turn in your sheet by end-of-business Tuesday, but admit it: Your bracket was finished Monday morning anyway.
Update (4): Several readers/emailers/commenters have thrown out a way to make the Play-In game truly spectacular: Make all four 16-seeds a Play-In. That increases the at-large bids by three more teams (which should make Drexel, Syracuse and Air Force fans happy) and turns the 16-seed into a much more interesting drama.
(And don't even think about arguing about the classic "integrity" of the 64-team bracket. They were happy enough to change -- and fans willing enough to accept -- going from "64" to "65." So, really, what's so bastardized about "68?")
Mock if you want. I'll be following the game.
Speaking of which, the game tonight: FAMU? Hell, they only have the best band in the country.
In case you missed it: I had a column in the Wall Street Journal Online breaking down the Tournament.
And WOW: Today, there's even a follow-up column unveiling my bracket picks. Here it is. Read it! Read it now! Pass it around!Oh, I cannot wait for your dissection of my idiocy. (I'll have a full discussion of my picks tomorrow.)
"Expert" picks: Needless to say, I'm a little disappointed that my "inspired" Final Four of Florida, UCLA, Texas A&M and Georgetown seems to be the hot pick for many others: Andy Katz, Michael Wilbon, NYT's Pete Thamel, DC Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg. Damn, it's hard to be a novelty act these days!
And, always an annual favorite, Deadspin has started rolling out its team-by-team previews, each with a different specialist author. When he finally gets to the Gators preview, you might just see a familiar name. (No, not "Joakim." D'oh!)
Women's Selection Monday: What does it say that the only team that moves the needle among casual (non) women's hoops fans is seeing where LSU was seeded and then saying, "So how 'bout that Pokey?"
(I'm sympathetic to picking
Player to watch? And I truly mean: WATCH this player – Courtney Paris from
Meanwhile, where is the NIT Bracket Challenge? Online or offline, I don't care. Now that the NIT is a bracket-friendly 32 teams, I want my damn pool. (BTW: Does anyone know the names of the teams snubbed by the NIT?)
Tournament Challenge Sign-Up: Don't forget to sign up for the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of the ESPN.com Tournament Challenge. Come on: You get FIVE entries. You're telling me this can't be one of 'em?
NBA: Mavs win streak ends at 17 after being thumped by the Warriors. Plus: Leandro Barbosa hits career-high 32 for 2nd time in 3 games.
NFL: Moss to Packers rumors heat up! Favre-to-Moss = Hilarious.
NHL: Great Evgeny's ghost! The Penguins will be staying in
Last thought: Is there any exercise more worthless than voting in the college hoops Top 25 ranking that comes out the day after Selection Sunday?