Joe Sheehan over at Basketball Prospectus is back aboard a favorite old hobbyhorse of his — the NCAA selection committee's habit of matching up non-BCS schools in the first round — and damned if he doesn't have a point.
This year, we have UNLV-Northern Iowa, Butler-UTEP, Richmond-St. Mary's, Temple-Cornell. That's not an inordinate number of mid-major vs. mid-major pairings; if you were to randomly generate a bracket, as Kevin Pelton did, you'd get four or five such games. But here's Sheehan:
The thing is, it's *not* a random process. They're sitting down, doing a bracket and shoving these teams together, while also giving us Cal/Louisville and Clemson/Missouri. I stand by the idea that this is intentional, and has increased since the Wichita State/George Mason regional semi in '06. They simply don't want more than one, maybe two widely spaced Cinderellas getting to that second weekend.
Running at this from a different direction, follow the money. Conferences get shares based on how far their teams advance in the tournament. It's best for the dominant conferences if the smaller ones are capped in how many shares they can get.
It's bad for the tournament and for the game. Cornell, UTEP, St. Mary's, UNI...these teams can't get games against BCS schools in the regular season short of playing at their place, and sometimes not even then. The tournament should provide some of that opportunity, and it's aggressively not doing so, essentially protecting the scheduling practices of BCS schools by not potentially exposing them to quality lower-conference teams in the tournament.
There's a case to be made that just about any first-round matchup of mid-major teams is both somewhere south of ideal — fans don't want Cinderella vs. Cinderella — and easily avoided. That the selection committee feels otherwise, Sheehan argues, isn't so much a wicked conspiracy as it is the inevitably perverted outcome of letting people with skin in the game decide who gets to play whom and when. I'll buy that. For all the talk of "peeling the onion" and all the ludicrously pained efforts at objectivity (a reliance on that worthless bit of bottom-dealing known as the RPI, for instance), the selection process is in reality little more than an exercise in looking at the big blinking neon arrows all around you and doing exactly as they say.