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NCAA tournament continues drastic evolution

Sun., March 13, 2011

LOS ANGELES – The Oregon “Tall Firs” posed for the first NCAA championship photograph dressed in suits and ties.

Everything was black and white then.

Bobby Anet, who scored 10 points in the 46-33 win over Ohio State, cradled the trophy in his lap.

The year was 1939.

Man, are those gone-with-the-wind days.

There are now more members on the NCAA selection committee (10) than schools (eight) involved in the first tournament.

Committee members have been huddled up in an Indianapolis hotel all week surrounded by pie charts and nondairy creamer.

This year’s bracket has been expanded to 68 schools, the latest tweak to accommodate America’s insatiable appetite for more.

Three extra scoops of ice cream sure make more symmetrical sense than the “65” flavors they’ve been selling us since 2001.

The new format increases the “at-large” pool by three and removes the stand-alone stigma of the play-in game.

There will now be four games in Dayton, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two will pit the last four “at-large” schools selected in the field. For the first time, they will be indentified. These will likely be mid-finishers from major conferences with the play-in winners likely slotted into No.11 or No. 12 seeding spots.

Two other Dayton games will match four champions from the lowest-rated conferences with automatic-bid status. Those two winners will be fed into No. 16 seeding positions.

College basketball has become, by design, almost hopelessly money hungry and back ended, rendering the regular season as laconic as the postseason is lunatic.

The four weeks starting with this week’s conference tournaments are, arguably, the most exciting in sports.

Brigham Young star Jimmer Fredette scored 52 points Friday night in Las Vegas, only 17 fewer points totaled by Penn State and Wisconsin in a 36-33 sleeper.

Conference tournaments, for all their circus qualities, come with a price.

Those who argue college basketball is superior to football in solving its championship are correct, but handing the automatic bid to the conference tournament champion is hardly “fair.” Before 1975, only one representative from each conference was allowed in the field. The tournament was 32 teams then, and several expansions led to the field of 64 in 1985.

Today, a school with a losing record, with a hot streak in its conference tournament, can knock the regular-season champion out of the NCAA field.

How important are conference tournaments in terms of success?

Since the tournament field expanded in 1985, nine schools have gone on to win the NCAA championship without winning their conference tournament.

A lot has changed since 1939.

Dorothy wouldn’t recognize Kansas anymore.

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