|Other than Drexel fans, who's getting worked up that the Dragons aren't 68th best this season? (US Presswire)|
For the second year in a row, the NCAA tournament has 68 teams. For the second year in a row, one of the great traditions of Tournament Selection Day has been desecrated.
The Bitching of The Snubbed.
Now "snub" is an overused term in that it typically is applied to teams or players who have no right to feel snubbed. But it has a nice lyrical feel to it, so we cave in to its imprecision this one time.
Anyway, for the second year in a row, the snubs were minor, so minor that they weren't even discussed much, thereby robbing us of some of the best television and tavern talk of the Monday and Tuesday afterward. And why?
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Because, by the impeccable logic of the day, if you're trying not to be the 69th best team in the country, you have no complaint. None.
Oh, a few voices were raised about Seton Hall, but those were easily dismissed by that 28-point loss to DePaul. A few lonely voices were raised in defense of Washington as winner of the Pac-12 regular-season title, but as it turns out, winning the Pac-12 ain't what it used to be -- namely, winning the Pac-10. And Drexel instead of Iona? Fine, sure, whatever.
But college basketball has suffered from too many defections of too many players, and the past two seasons have shown us that between the dropoff in quality and the expansion of the field, the fight for inclusion isn't really a fight at all, but more a struggle to fill the field.
And without that tension, one of the best things about Selection Sunday is gone.
You see, even in the Internet age, we have only so much RAM to devote to the 69th best team in the country. It just isn't one of those compelling arguments we want to spend time on. In other words, we have found our don't-give-that-much-of-a-damn threshold.
Why, we heard nary a peep out of the UCLA contingent for getting no invite to any tournament, which presumably would make them the 149th best team. Frankly, most Bruins fans wanted the program punished, and those who didn't had moved on to something more satisfying -- like spring football.
But the loss of complaints about snubs has extended even further to a loss of complaints about seeds. It may finally be that we have come to realize the seed isn't that big of a deal, not nearly as much as travel, time of the opening game and the matchup. But other than Florida as a seven seed, it was hard to find much outrage out there.
Now you may think all this harmony-through-weariness is a tribute to the selection committee for doing a seamless job, including 11 mid-major selections. But we won't be falling into that trap either.
We think the problem here might be tournament bloat.
Sixty-four teams might have been our threshold as a nation. I have yet to see much passion for the play-in game, and now that there are four of them, the instinct that too many is better is betraying the industry. Play-in teams can't complain they shouldn't be play-in teams because they were that close to being NIT teams, so rage quickly gives way to relief.
And relief is no fun at all.
In short, Selection Sunday is now a tamer affair. There are more talking heads than ever, but fewer fulminations about the unworthy included and the improperly expelled upon which they can expend their energies. They're all dressed up and have nowhere to go.
It is unlikely the committee will ever want to go backwards; in fact, the Boeheim plan to expand the field to 96 teams has more traction than going back to 64. Who would have guessed the right number turns out to be 68?
Or in this case, the wrong number.
Nothing undermines our raison d'etre as a country more than a process in which nobody can complain. Complaining is our most important form of currency, and without it, we tend to wander off and pay attention to other things. Like spring football.
Thus, the committee has a challenge ahead of it in 2013. Now that there are more places to fill than deserving awardees, the men and women inside the room may want to consider fitting in one or two hilarious failures a year, just for the sake of the audience.
But this Selection Sunday? This Sunday was a tepid affair, when once it was a glorious pyrospectacular of rage, incompetence and conspiracy theories that glowed all night and into Monday.
God, we miss those days.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).