Such is the landscape of the college basketball preseason tournament schedule for 2003-04 – thanks to this funny little "2-in-4" rule that the NCAA brain trust set in motion a few years ago. The rule, which limits schools to participating in only two exempt tournaments over a four-year period, was intended to ensure that smaller "mid-major" or "low-major" schools would have the chance to participate in these tourneys, rather than having the organizers fill up their brackets with high-profile names like Kentucky, Kansas or Duke every year. Note: exempt tournaments only count as one game against a school's schedule maximum, rather than three or four – hence, the reason for their allure.
But tournament organizers have argued since the rule's inception that it would drive them out of business because they would eventually run out of marquee names to bring in the revenue. Regardless, the bigger schools continued to flock to these tournaments and everyone continued their business as usual with the thought that the 2-in-4 rule would eventually be thrown out. After much litigation, a federal judge finally overturned the rule and the tournaments went back to inviting whichever teams they wanted. A few weeks later, however, with the tournament fields nearly set, an appellate court granted the NCAA a stay of execution on the rule and the scheduling world was thrown into chaos.
Now, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which was scheduled to open the season on Nov. 13-14 with an eight team tournament featuring Illinois, Alabama, Memphis, Gonzaga, Wake Forest, St. Joseph's and two others (Syracuse, Missouri, Marquette, Stanford and/or St. John's were possibilities), is in serious trouble. But now, Wake Forest is the only team that is scheduled for the event because all of the others had already met their "2-in-4" quota.
The Maui Classic, which usually fields one of the most impressive lineups, is stuck with Ohio State as the feature team and Central Michigan, Chaminade, Santa Clara, Villanova, Dayton and San Diego State filling out one of the weakest Maui brackets in recent memory. Ugh! (Wait a minute – Ohio State, Dayton, Villanova and Central Michigan are all attending a tourney thousands of miles away? Quick! Get the NCAA Tournament reform committee on the stick and make them play closer to home! Student athletes are being abused!)
And how about that Great Alaskan Shootout field? Aside from Duke, we now have Liberty, Pacific, Purdue, Alaska-Anchorage, Seton Hall, Southwest Texas State and Canisius. Pardon me, but I think I'll sleep through that one. Actually, the organizers should thank the Aurora Borealis that Duke signed a contract with them before the 2-in-4 rule went into effect!
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this going to result in lower attendance and viewership numbers for these tournaments? It actually appears that the 2-in-4 rule is having a significant financial effect already. And the ones I've mentioned here are just the big name tournaments. Think about all the others, like the BCA Invitational (which had Kentucky as the host school, but now must rely on the drawing power of Morehead State and Florida A&M) or the Guardians Classic (which originally had Kansas and Michigan State as headliners, but is now pinning its hopes on South Carolina and Southwest Missouri State). Who cares if the 2-in-4 rule will eventually go away – it may actually put most of these tournaments out of business this year!
So if the tournaments go out of business, how is this going to help the smaller programs? If teams like Southwest Missouri State and Butler can't get a neutral court shot at an Arizona or a Michigan State, how are they ever going to generate national exposure for their schools? You would think that the NCAA brass would've thought of a better solution. I mean, if they really wanted to help out the smaller schools, why not throw out the 2-in-4 and make a rule mandating a more equitable balance of the "haves" and "have-nots" in these tournaments (which would actually be an ideal fix if they could ever work out the logistics)?
But here comes the clincher: the NCAA would rather see these exempted tournaments go the way of the dinosaur, anyway. Why? Because these events take away from the potential marquee match-ups of their top-rated teams. Why have UConn play in a tournament with a bunch of nobodies, when they could generate better ratings and more revenue playing another top 10 team, like Duke or Florida? Again, it's all about the money, and pitting top-level teams against each other in non-conference match-ups is major bling-bling.
Actually, this whole fiasco gives rise to the NCAA's hidden agenda, which is to divide all of Division I into two separate groups: Division I-A (the nine major conferences) and Division I-B (everyone else). The big-name schools have been looking for a way to segregate themselves from the rest of country so they wouldn't have to share as much of the television money. Sound familiar? Sure it does. Just look at the college football's Bowl Championship Series. The BCS provides the NCAA with the elitist structure it needs to satisfy its big moneymakers. Heck, if they could scrap the NCAA Tournament in favor of a pay-for-play event for teams in the major conferences, they would've done it in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately for the lower-tier teams, they have little or no voice when it comes to making such policy, and their hopes for national exposure could die along with the exempted tournaments under the stranglehold of the 2-in-4 rule.
And as for college basketball fans, do you think the NCAA really cares about what you want? You're going to get whatever they want to throw up on your television screen. So, suck it up and get used to watching mid-majors battle it out for whatever exposure they can steal.
Ah, yes! Don't you wish college basketball was more of a sport than a business?