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Thought Experiment: Let’s format March Madness like the Women’s College World Series

The ACC proposed changing the NCAA Tournament again. So what would happen if basketball took a page out of softball’s playbook?

FloSports: FloSoftball Titan Classic Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Women’s College World Series wrapped up its regional play last weekend, and it was lit as hell.

Sadly, this isn’t a college softball blog — hey SB Nation, you might need to start one — or even a mid-major softball blog. But because some ACC coaches suggested reformatting the NCAA Tournament again (sigh), I figured I’d enter the maelstrom of hot takes by turning to the fairer sex for a possible solution.

What if the NCAA Tournament was formatted like the Women’s College World Series?

For starters, scoring your office’s bracket challenge would be a difficult enterprise. I mean, just look at this thing:

Although the WCWS bracket looks very different from the March Madness bracket we all know and love, the bracket’s reliance on a double-elimination format offers even more wrinkles, namely:

  • The top 16 seeds host four-team, double-elimination sub-regionals.
  • The winners of each sub-regional play a best-of-three series in the Super Regionals. The highest seed hosts, but in the event that two of the sub-regional hosts are upset (see: Hofstra and South Florida advancing to the Super Regionals in 2012), the team with the best RPI ranking hosts.
  • The eight Super Regional winners converge at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK for a double-elimination tournament.
  • The final two teams play a best-of-three series in the WCWS Championships.

For the sake of this thought experiment, I used the selection committee’s official seeding list to determine which 16 teams would host a regional. From there, I assigned the No. 17 team to the first-overall region, the No. 18 to the second-overall region and so on. Since the WCWS involves only 64 teams, I cut out the four worst high-majors — after all, this is a mid-major blog — to make room for the SWAC, MEAC, NEC and Big South champions.

Upon further examination, some of these regionals actually look pretty intriguing. For instance:

  • Gonzaga is the lone mid to host its own regional (and rightfully so)
  • 10 regionals have at least two mid-majors; three regionals have as many as three mids against one Power 5 opponent
  • The Ann Arbor Regional features three kick-ass mid-majors in Nevada, New Mexico State and UMBC
  • Marshall and West Virginia could still play each other in the Villanova Regional
  • Loyola University Chicago ended up in Tennessee’s region again
  • Charleston could be the latest mid-major to beat Virginia by 20 points

At the same time, however, both the double-elimination and best-of-three formats all but weed out the possibility of upsets — the NCAA Tournament’s calling card. A WCWS-themed NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament would almost assuredly end Cinderella stories. Sure, most mid-major teams can pull at least one upset over a Power 5 program. But winning a best-of-three series at a Power 5’s home court is a gargantuan task. Athleticism and depth would win out in this hypothetical tournament format; teams would have to get hot for as many as 12 games, which is insane.

The formula for a mid-major to make the Super Regional would likely require being one of the top 16 teams in the nation, thus snagging home-court advantage in the regionals. Granted, a possible solution to level the playing field could involve assigning the top 16 teams to neutral-court regional sites, but this would take away the prospect of Gonzaga students turning up at The Kennel for at least three more games.

All in all, formatting the NCAA Tournament like the WCWS shirks some of the hallmarks of March Madness for a few more home games, double-elimination formats that favor the better teams, and what would amount to an exhausting March. Like most proposed postseason changes, it’d be best to ignore this proposed WCWS-themed format because the NCAA Tournament is fantastic as it is. The NCAA should (and will) probably reject the ACC’s proposition — or at most, expand the field to 69.