March Madness Upsets Are Actually Bad

This morning, I woke up and chose violence. I have been sitting on this take for quite some time and have just been waiting for the right time to break it out. Well, today was the day.

Everybody loves NCAA Tournament upsets, right? They're the most iconic representations of the event. Most people don't remember well-played Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight games between top seeds, but nobody will ever forget UMBC, Florida Gulf Coast or now Oral Roberts. And I absolutely agree that watching these kids get to realize a dream and take down Goliath is fun and entertaining.

But rooting for these upsets to happen is rooting against the best Tournament possible for determining the most legitimate champion.

It was obviously difficult for me to express this thought fully in one tweet, so please allow me to elaborate here. Again, I think it's great to see teams like Oral Roberts and Abilene Christian take down a 2- or 3-seed in the first round and earn another chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. But it's the sports equivalent of eating candy for dinner. It's great for a minute, but the returns diminish exponentially the more it happens.

Let's take this to its logical conclusion. If everybody actually liked these teams winning games as much as they claim to in my replies right now, then they surely all be in favor of a Final Four featuring Ohio, Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian and Oregon State. But of course nobody actually wants that, because we all know none of those teams is actually the best team in college basketball.

So if we agree that a Final Four filled with double-digit seeds isn't really what we want — or maybe you're an anarchist and that actually is what you want, which is fine — then the only thing we disagree on is the amount of the best teams we want to see advance into the later rounds. I want to see as many as possible.

And the comparison to the College Football Playoff is something I want to touch on, as well. For as much as people bitch about the same teams being in the CFP seemingly every season, there really hasn't been a season since it was implemented that anybody has complained about the best team not winning the national championship. And I'm against expanding it for the exact same reasons I've listed above. Keeping the postseason exclusive and ensuring only the most deserved teams take part in it ensures a deserving champion. And sure, if you go down the list of the last however many NCAA Tournament champions you want, you won't find any 14-seeds on there. But I guarantee that you'll find a team whose path was aided by facing one in the second round rather than a 3-seed.

Additionally, the parity in basketball is far greater than it is in football. For every Appalachian State win over Michigan, there are 20 NCAA Tournament upsets. As is evident at this time every year, almost any team that makes the NCAA Tournament has at least one player who is capable of going toe-to-toe with the best guy on the floor from any blue blood. And simply by the inherent nature of basketball, the better team is infinitely more likely to lose than would be the case in a college football game. Good teams have bad shooting days all the time and their season is over just as quickly as it started. The format of the NCAA Tournament is actually set up for the better team to lose eventually.

In discussing this with some of my co-workers, I think Jeff Lowe and I came up with a great compromise for how the NCAA Tournament would work. Let's make it a World Cup-type set-up with 16 four-team groups — similar to college baseball regionals — played at the highest seed's home court. The top two teams advance out of each group into the Round of 32. So when you have an Ohio State or Illinois lose its first game, they get two more chances to bounce back and advance. And conversely, teams that pull off big upsets in the first game will have an opportunity to prove that they're actually legit and need to win just one more in their next two chances — against teams not as good as the one they beat the first time — to move on.

Upsets are fantastic theatre. They create indelible images and make the NCAA Tournament the most exciting postseason in sports. But in its current format, they also make it the least legitimate postseason in sports.