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Grip on Sports: Despite all the selection process’ flaws, the NCAA tourney is still the best sporting event we have

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few wears the net after the Zags defeated Xaiver 83-59 to earn the program’s first trip to the Final Four. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few wears the net after the Zags defeated Xaiver 83-59 to earn the program’s first trip to the Final Four. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is a lot to complain about concerning the NCAA bracket reveal yesterday, from teams included (or those not) to the inability of folks at TBS to recite the alphabet. But the bottom line remains the same: The 68 teams selected will participate in the nation’s best sporting event. Read on.


• It goes A-B-C-D-E and on from there, right? So why did Nevada come after one of the North Carolina schools? Oh well, basic education ain’t what it used to be.

It was a new look to the NCAA tournament selection show yesterday, carried by TBS for the first time, with announcers standing before a live audience and all the participants revealed in the first 13 minutes or so.

It made for some interesting moments, especially when schools such as Saint Mary’s – one of this area’s main rivals – and USC – second-place finisher in this area’s most-followed conference – were omitted.

For the Gaels, winners of 27 games, the wounds were self-inflicted. We’ve ranted in this space before about their decision to not play a nonconference game outside of California, and that was before we knew Randy Bennett turned down opportunities to improve the schedule.

Now we don’t the particulars of the offers from Creighton, Nevada and Rhode Island (the devil is always in the details of those type of contracts), but on the surface it’s a bad look for Saint Mary’s.

An NCAA-bid-costing look.

If the Gaels shot themselves in the foot, the Trojans were kicked to the curb because of the inability of their Pac-12 brethren to shine in the preseason. USC had plenty of nonconference opportunities to improve their standing and fumbled them away.

(On the flip side of that is Arizona State, who played well over its head, won three games it probably shouldn’t have and punched its ticket to March Madness by Christmas time.)

Then came Pac-12 play, where even a win on the road didn’t help. The conference picked a bad year to be an RPI desert considering the selection committee put so much faith in their new quadrant system.

Teams from the Big 12 and Big East and Big Ten had a big chance to help themselves every week. Pac-12 schools, not so much.

Their fate was sealed early on – the conference struggled against other Power Six conferences – and the way the RPI works, that struggle was magnified throughout the season.

So Middle Tennessee, USC, Saint Mary’s and others prepare for NIT games, angry they weren’t included in the field of 68. It’s an experience denied their players, sure, but does anyone really believe a team left out of the tournament had a realistic chance to win it?

This is where basketball shines. Every season about this time there are probably a dozen or so schools that could win it all. They are always included in the field. Those left out aren’t contenders for the title. They just missed out on participating in a memory-making event. And, lest we forget, a million dollars, which is probably most important.

In football there are probably also about a dozen schools each season that could win it all. And only four, chosen as arbitrarily as seemingly possible, are picked. Instead of erring on the side of too many participants, the opposite tack is used.

Which is better?

Give me March Madness any day.


Gonzaga: If you can break away from trying to win your office pool – my best advice: always let your dog pick the games; his choices will have as much chance as yours – there is a whole heck of a lot to cover here. We start with this year’s selection process, which John Blanchette covers perfectly with this column. Jim Meehan checks in with the Gonzaga folks about the four seed and the Boise trip (as well as the opponents). And Kathy Plonka has a handful of photos. … Now for Memory Lane, a place the Zags have lived the past 20 years. John has 20 of them and he and Jim Meehan teamed up for an oral history of the NCAA success. … The women, who learn their NCAA fate today, have had a 12-year run of excellence, which Jim Allen takes time to examine. This season, they are hoping for a single-digit seed. … The baseball team had a good weekend in Texas. … Around the WCC, snubbed by the NCAA, Saint Mary’s will host an NIT game tomorrow. Bennett still is playing dumb on why his team wasn’t invited. … BYU is also in the NIT again and will travel to Stanford for a Wednesday game. … San Diego may not have a permanent coach, but it has a spot in the College Basketball Invitational.

WSU: The Pac-12, for the second time this decade, has only one school, Arizona, in the main field. Two teams, Arizona State and UCLA, are in the play-in games this week. The Sun Devils somehow got into the field with an RPI of 66 while UCLA did just enough (and has just enough of a national draw to its name) to get in. … The Wildcats are a top-four seed but have a pretty tough road to earn Sean Miller’s first-ever Final Four berth. … There are a handful of conference teams in the runner-up tournament, the NIT, including Washington, which is happy to keep playing. … Utah is probably disappointed not to be in the NCAAs, but the Utes say they are ready. … Oregon will host Rider this Wednesday.

EWU: The NCAA tourney eluded the Eagles but they will return to the CBI for a third consecutive season. According to Jim Allen’s story, they are fine with that. Eastern will travel to Utah Valley for a Tuesday night game.

Idaho: One of Idaho’s great football players from the 1960s, Jerry Hendron, died last month.

Mariners: Though the M’s lost yesterday, that was overshadowed by two events: Robinson Cano leaving the game with a hamstring problem and Ichiro’s first at-bat in a Mariners’ uniform – second-time-around version.

Seahawks: Richard Sherman’s departure, part of a seismic offseason for Seattle, brings with it many questions for the franchise. … The Hawks are said to have a huge interest in a former UW tight end.


• I noticed something in the selection show’s intro yesterday. When the voiceover on TBS was saying “… from the blue bloods …” they showed a Gonzaga image. Who would have ever thought 20 years ago the Zags would be included in that category? Also, when Gonzaga’s name was mentioned for the first time three minutes into the show, a lone person in the audience clapped. One. It sounded funny. Until later …

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