- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The bane of the NCAA tournament is the single-elimination format.

That also is the beauty of the event.

The duality of the tournament lends itself to superficial conclusions, usually hosannas or brickbats aimed in the direction of the coaches.

It is amusing how a coach’s IQ can rise to Mensa-like proportions on the basis of two victories in the tournament, one possibly because of a last-second shot.

The feting of coaches is the principal pastime of both Dick Vitale and Billy Packer, the game’s so-called consciences.

Vitale inevitably embraces coaches with the fervor of an expectant parent.

He exercises great willpower in not handing out cigars to anyone within earshot of him whenever he is extolling the brain power and philanthropy of a coach.

Vitale sees and hears no evil in college basketball, although the game is littered with plenty of wrongdoing.

The celebration of college coaches is understandable, for they are the fixtures of the game.

Yet the demands of coaching in college are far less strenuous than those in the NBA.

So long as you are a coach from a major conference, with either the gift of gab or the entre of tradition, you are well on your way to 20 victories.

This is assuming the early portion of a team’s schedule is stuffed with the cupcakes seeking a payout.

The pedestrian thought process also can work against the leading coaches of the game.

Roy Williams could not win the big one until he did.

The same was said of Jim Calhoun and Gary Williams.

That is the unfair nature of the tournament.

A single-elimination tournament has limited application in determining the best team in a given season.

Even AAU-sponsored basketball events at the local and national levels are double-elimination events.

Otherwise, anyone can have a bad day.

A team with a 30-3 record, such as Ohio State, lives with this fear. It has shown itself to be the nation’s No. 1 team over the course of the regular season. That will not count for much after the tournament advances beyond the first round.

Ohio State has the seeming guarantee of a first-round victory because of its No. 1 seed.

After that, anything is liable to happen.

The psychology of basketball dictates that it is far easier to play at a high level if there are few expectations pulling on a team.

The Buckeyes, of course, have no such freedom, and anything short of a Final Four appearance will be treated as a disappointment, regardless of their four months’ worth of excellence.

This is not to suggest the NCAA should consider implementing a tournament that actually endeavors to uncover the best team in the field.

A purist might embrace a 16-team, best-of-five format.

Yet the realist would recognize that so much of what the NCAA tournament has come to be would be lost.

There would be no George Mason.

There would be no need to bone up on the possibilities of Winthrop and Butler.

Ohio State, Florida, Kansas and North Carolina each earned a No. 1 seed.

One of the safest bets of the tournament is to wage against all four showing up in Atlanta.

That is the cruel aspect of the tournament. So much good work can be spoiled because of a couple of bad bounces or bad calls.

The objection is not with the bad bounces or bad calls. Those are part of the game. The objection is with the profound conclusions that are drawn from the element of luck, whether good or bad.

Alas, restraint has no place in the tournament.

It is three weeks of incessant hype dispensed through a bull horn, whether in the stands or in a television studio.

After the last net is snipped, the accuracy of the national champion is incidental.

The NCAA could start the tournament the following weekend with the same 65 teams and undoubtedly have a different victor at the end.

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