Griffith: Level playing field is a logical playing field for college hoops

Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)

September 9, 2020

I did the same thing twice a week for three years.

Since the winter of 2017, between the months of December and March, I sat down at my laptop for a couple of hours almost every Monday and every Thursdaym to do slightly different iterations the same routine.

I’d pull all the latest college basketball team statistics into a spreadsheet, along with other resume metrics and results-based qualifiers. I’d parse team sheets and ratings until I had 68 teams picked out of the bunch.

It was bracketology. It was super fun, but it was often so difficult.

There’s a reason for that. College basketball is one of the toughest sports in which to truly measure ability and success from team to team. We have a million different metrics and quantifiable, categorizable measurements — and the “eye test,” if you’re into that kind of thing — but all of the samples are just so different.

One team went 27-4 against one of the worst schedules in the country. Another won 16 games, but nine of them were against Top 75 teams. Another team is 21-10, but their efficiency ratings are Top 10 in the country. What matters most?

Are apples better than oranges?

This process is difficult enough when everyone’s playing 30 or 31 games. It’s difficult enough when strength of schedule varies from rookie-level to all-Madden.

This year is going to be a mess. Non-conference scheduling is one of the biggest unknowns in the sport right now, and it’s not all that messier than the conference side of things.

Some teams may play 10 games this year. Others might play 25. Some might play 20 Top 100 teams. Others might play none.

There will be no common ground on which to compare teams.

And this is why I support the ACC’s proposal to allow all Division I teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The 15 ACC coaches voted unanimously to propose this idea to the NCAA. The coaches’ main sticking point for the idea is to “celebrate college basketball.”

As Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim put it, “This is a unique time and it’s time to do something different.”

That, in and of itself, is fair and true. But from a competitive standpoint, it makes even more sense.

There’s going to be absolutely no way to compare one team to another this year — even more so than in years past. According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, many coaches and athletic directors have described preparations for whatever the 2020-21 season will be as a “s*** show.”

If scheduling has been a mess, we might as well level the playing field the only way we can, right?

The obvious retort to this idea is the sheer magnitude of a 346-team tournament — 11 teams for various reasons, are ineligible for the 2021 NCAA Tournament — is just too much. Where would they play? Where would they stay? How would you seed it?

These are valid concerns. If the NCAA is able to mitigate them, though, and figure out a plan that works safely and fluidly, there’s no one in college basketball who will be hurt by this concept.

What about the elite teams who worked hard to earn their spot in the field of 68? Play like it, beat the teams that “shouldn’t” have made it, and you’ll be just fine.

The logistics of a full Division I tournament would be monstrous, but to say they’re impossible is simply reductionist and defeatist.

If there’s anything 2020 has proven, nothing is impossible.

And sure, maybe I’m overly optimistic. But isn’t every college basketball fan in September?

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