Mad in March: NCAA Tournament Faces Familiar Controversy

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Selection Sunday is the annual kickoff to March Madness—this year, that auspicious event occurred on March 13, 2016. It is a day of elation for the teams selected to the 68 team bracket, and heartbreak for those that miss the cut. Every year the decisions are met with widespread controversy and spirited debate as disappointed teams and fans protest their grievances. This year teams like Monmouth University, St. Bonaventure, and South Carolina are left frustrated as they head to the NIT while Vanderbilt, Tulsa and Syracuse are thanking their lucky stars.

Syracuse went 19-13 this season including a first round exit from the ACC tournament. Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for the first nine games of the season. NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair Joe Castiglione said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, “We take [Boeheim’s absence] into consideration, just like we take into consideration the availability of players. We discuss that as a factor. We are considering it without prejudice.”

Castiglione’s comments seem troubling. Boeheim was off the court for breaking NCAA rules, including serious academic infringements. A postseason ban was not part of their punishment; however, the suspension should not be a mitigating factor for their losses. Otherwise, the punishment carries no weight, and more importantly than letting the team off the hook for five losses, it lets Boeheim off for academic dishonesty.

Monmouth and South Carolina both may have legitimate complaints. South Carolina, for example, beat Tulsa 83-75 early in the season, and had a significantly better record than them. Monmouth, at 27-7 also had much better record than Tulsa, played a strong nonconference schedule, and won their conference regular season championship. South Carolina also had a stronger record than fellow SEC member Vanderbilt. Yet, both Tulsa and Vanderbilt were selected over South Carolina. Monmouth’s rejection has me worried about conference bias. While Michigan (Big 10), Syracuse (ACC), and Vanderbilt (SEC) were selected, Monmouth from the MAAC was rejected.

University of Kentucky coach John Calipari also criticized the seeding of the brackets. Kentucky beat Texas A&M in the SEC championship game on Selection Sunday, only to find out later than A&M received a 3 seed while Kentucky was given a 4 seed. Calipari complained about the lack of transparency in the selection committee’s criteria for ranking and selecting the teams.

The controversy is nothing new; every year the teams that missed a spot will disagree, while the teams that squeezed in will say that they belong. The upsets will probably not be new either, unless a No. 16 seed pulls it off. Since the unbelievable is the normal in March Madness, it is easy to believe that we have seen just about everything there is to see. Still you can be all-but sure that this year’s tournament will produce yet another unbelievable Cinderella story for an underdog team—and while fantastic stories like these may be familiar, fans never seem to tire of them.

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