Well! Week one of the NCAA basketball tournament is over and all I can say is: Wasnít that fun?!? Now, weíre not talking brackets here, weíre simply talking basketball. Although I have to say, even though I took a beating at the brackets, even that aspect of this past weekend was fun.
Parity. Itís good for everything. I heard many times this weekend how parity is threatening to ruin college basketball the same way itís ruined pro football. Huh? Does the NFL look ruined? Somebody check the Super Bowlís ratings for me, will ya? Did it get beat out by reruns of 227 or something? I think not. It is true that the overall quality of talent isnít as high. Of course, that means that Duke isnít quite the perennial national champions that they used to be. But, parity levels the playing field across the board and, when teams who face each other are similar in talent, it makes for better, more exciting, games. Right now, the Illinois Fighting Illini are, with the North Carolina Tar Heels, ostensibly the best two teams in the country. But I would venture to say that neither team would hold a candle to past champions.
Utah's Andrew Bogut celebrates during the final seconds against Oklahoma Saturday, March 19, 2005 in the second round of the NCAA Championships in Tucson. Utah won 67-58. (AP Photo/Matt York)
But, is that really a bad thing? This past weekend, we saw quite possibly the most exciting, infuriating, exasperating and just plain fun first two rounds of the tournament, perhaps, ever. Without parity, would Wisconsin-Milwaukee be where it is right now? Itís a sweet 16 team and playing the number one team in the country for the right to advance to the elite 8. How about Utah? In the past, the odds of seeing a team like Utah in the sweet 16 would be long, indeed. Probably Texas Tech, too. And yet, there they all are while powerhouses like Kansas, Connecticut and Oklahoma will spend the rest of the tournament at home watching the games on TV. Granted, for all those favorites who lost, this is certainly a very bad thing but is it really? Didnít you have fun watching that West Virginia-Wake Forest game? How much better can it get than that? And yet, if it werenít for parity, Wake wins in a cakewalk. A boring, ho-hum cakewalk.
How did this happen? Well, the players made it happen with a good deal of help from the NBA. Kids want to go to the NBA and with players jumping early from college to the pros (if they go to college at all), players know they need exposure. If itís even possible that you might want to leave the NCAA in your junior, or even sophomore, year, you had better start playing immediately. Think youíre going to be able to start as a freshman for a Duke or a UConn or a North Carolina? Uh, probably not. If a player wants to showcase himself from day one, he starts looking for places that can offer him real playing time. Oh, sure, playing in a big conference would be nice but if you can play at Southern Mississippi from day one, wouldnít that be even better? So thatís what happens. Players leave their teams after a much shorter period of time not allowing them to maintain continuity as theyíd like and, in the meantime, more and more good players are going to the so-called mid-major schools so they can get their PT immediately and not have to wait a year. The talent pool doesnít thin so much as it spreads out. Now, everyone gets a piece of the pie. Less and less is it the haves and the have-nots. And if it continues this way, the big conferences may not be big for very much longer. The BigTen has been ďdownĒ for the last few years; is that a result of parity? Whoís next? The Big 12, perhaps?
The point is simply this: no longer is the tournament about David vs. Goliath. Now itís about good basketball and sharing the wealth. I fully expect in the next decade or so, to see mid-majors and smaller conferences show up more and more on the NCAA basketball radar screen. Despite the fact that the Mid-American Conference basically got shut out for bids, expect to see more at-larges coming from more mid-majors like the MAC. Personally, I think that will be a good thing, overall, for college basketball. But thatís in the future. Right now, we still have an exciting tournament left to be played and I donít know about you but when Wisconsin-Milwaukee plays Illinois and when Utah plays Kentucky and when Texas Tech plays West Virginia, Iím going sit back, pop a cold one, and enjoy a heaping helping of NCAA college basketball parity.