Advertising it as “March Madness is coming early this season,” the NCAA and CBS announced this week that for the first time, fans will get a glimpse of the state of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s mind before the actual bracket is released on Selection Sunday.
On Saturday, February 11, CBS will host a 12:30 p.m. ET show called the “NCAA March Madness Bracket Preview.” Over the course of 30 minutes, NCAA Men’s Basketball Chair Mark Hollis will reveal the Committee’s top 16 seeds as of that moment, and explain to the public what their thought process was.
“We are excited about giving the fans a glimpse to what the men’s basketball committee is thinking at this point of the season, and creating a buzz as we look towards Selection Sunday,” said Hollid. “It’s important to recognize after this list has been released, there is still a significant portion of the regular season to be played and every league must stage its conference tournament. There’s potential for quite a bit of movement until we do it for real March 12, but this early peek will give everyone insight as to where the committee stands as we hit the stretch run of the regular season.”
For many diehard college basketball fans, this is a day they had been fearing for some time. Selection Sunday is one of the most sacred days on the sports calendar, and you don’t mess with sacred holidays.
So much of the fun of Selection Sunday, even in the era of the “Bracketologist,” surrounds the notion of total surprise. We may think we have the No. 1 seeds figured out, or the teams who are on the right and wrong sides of the bubble, but the reality is that we have zero idea what the field of 68 is going to look like until we see it for the first time. Then there’s a mad scramble to react to the things we don’t agree with, to peg the biggest early round upsets, and to predict which four teams have the best routes to the national semifinals. It’s imperfect, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
At the same time, it’s hard to fault the NCAA and CBS for dipping their collective toes into the pre-selection show selection show pool. We as sports fans have been given them every reason to do so for the past three years.
Regardless of their ultimate importance, or lack thereof, the five College Football Playoff Rankings shows that serve as the predecessors to the “official” selection show at the end of the regular season have been an overwhelming success for the past three years.
On November 15 of last year, Duke squared off against Kansas and Kentucky faced Michigan State in the “Champions Classic,” which annually produces two of the highest-rated games of college basketball’s early season slate. The College Football Playoff Rankings show, which took place in between the doubleheader on ESPN, pulled in more viewers than either game did.
The viewers are one thing, but it’s the over-the-top reaction that really makes the rankings show worth it for the powers that be at ESPN and within college football. Immediately following their release, outraged or overjoyed fan bases take to the internet to gloat or call out the selection committee for a perceived slight. The next day on talk radio, the rankings are topic A and topic B across the country. Louisville fans and media members can attest to this firsthand.
With college basketball continuing to struggle for its place in the American sports spotlight, it would feel like an obvious missed opportunity to not piggyback off the success that college football has had with its playoff rankings show. After all, recent years have proven that while interest in college basketball is down during the regular season, the NCAA Tournament is still the most popular sporting event in the Unites States besides the Super Bowl.
Diehard college hoops fans may not like the sanctity of Selection Sunday being tarnished, but ultimately we did this to ourselves. The powers that be in college basketball know we’re going to watch, and they know we’re going to react to it, which makes the move a no-brainer. VT