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It’s time for the NCAA to put March Madness in motion

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Though we’re 8 months away from the scheduled date of the 2021 iteration of the tournament, they must identify the protocols now to implement a successful tournament

Iowa v Cincinnati Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

While JP highlighted the flaws of the NCAA in yesterday’s Overreaction Monday through the lens of college football, the wheels of college basketball began to turn. Stadium’s Jeff Goodman has been on top of how National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) will operate their sports.

This move came in conjunction with the Association moving their football to the spring, as well.

While the dollars involved with junior college athletics pales in comparison to those which face four-year colleges, the moves do offer some semblance of a timeline for the NCAA. In looking at the timelines of last year’s tournaments - three divisions for both associations - the adjusted timeline for the junior colleges portend something similar for the NCAA.

2020 College Tournaments

Association Division # Teams Round Locations 2020 Start 2020 Result
Association Division # Teams Round Locations 2020 Start 2020 Result
NCAA Division I 68 13 Pods 3/17/2020 Cancelled prior to tournament
NCAA Division II 64 10 Pods 3/16/2020 Cancelled after field selected
NCAA Division III 64 16+ host sites & two neutral sites 3/6/2020 Cancelled after three rounds
NJCAA Division I 24 1 3/16/2020 Cancelled after field selected
NJCAA Division II 16 1 3/17/2020 Cancelled after field selected
NJCAA Division III 12 1 3/11/2020 Completed

Since all of them start right around the same time, it would make sense for the senior division to pull not just the tournament start time from NJCAA but many of the other components, as detailed below.

But first, why?

$$$.

Jamie Pollard, King of Saying the Quiet Part out Loud*, said this in another release to “Cyclone Nation” which gathered storm in the greater college landscape:

We must also be cognizant of the absolute need to generate revenues to sustain our long-term operations. We felt it was important to be transparent about the financial realities in college athletics today to add some context to the discussion. Although I am most-familiar with our financial situation, many peers have shared similar stories in regards to their financial projections.

* this is also known as transparency, but much be cast in a negative light on a Hawkeye weblog

For the NCAA to continue as it does, there absolutely must be a 2021 March Madness or it will go down in a burning ring of fire as Name, Image, and Likeness take amateurism by storm. The catch-22 of it all is that the NIL issue the NCAA refuses to allow would enable student-athletes to have some stake in the return of sports instead of generating revenue for their universities. But that is a topic for a different day by a different blogger.

What to enact?

The NJCAA really nailed their landing in terms of their bifurcated season. First, the 22-max games between January 20th and April 10th would look almost exactly like the current conference season the Big Ten employs, shifted back a couple weeks. Instead of playing 18 regular season games between January 3rd and March 10th, like Iowa did last year, it would simply shift the regular season back 17 days with time - and games - to spare, so a conference like the Big Ten could still get their 20.

The execution of a season like this grants what many high-major coaches are looking for, as a Goodman straw poll had 42% of them would prefer a January start with just conference games. That group is matched by 42% who would wish to see the season planned as normal.

That is the beauty of the NJCAA’s proposal is the pseudo-standardized practice season. If implemented by the NCAA, it would more or less mirror what already exists without the games, which is why they should continue with a similar restriction. That mindset - continuing non-conference games - is shared across the spectrum by low- and mid-major coaches in Goodman’s poll, though 38% of them are willing to do a full season after January. It makes sense, since many of these teams participate in barnstorming buy-game tours.

With a restriction, it would limit those city-to-city travels and offer the opportunity for high-major-hosted round robin tournaments. If the limit is even six games, Iowa could host the tournament plus games against Iowa State, an ACC opponent, and a Big East opponent in the conference matchups. Since they would be just six games in 60 days instead of 11 in 35 like Iowa played last season ahead of December 15th.

How about the postseason?

What NJCAA executes is two-fold: not only are they’re championship tournaments less teams but they’re at a single location. By establishing a new timeline for April Madness, it would give the powers that be additional time to set up the logistics of their own single-site event.

68 teams certainly seems daunting but four courts is the maximum required on a given day. If isolation is still require, the site would more closely resemble the ongoing TBT out of Columbus, OH than mini city the NBA is leveraging with Disney World. The timing between end of season and beginning of April Madness would allow for some level of testing and quarantining.

The tournament could even be compressed as travel is no longer required.

Why now?

Here is where the true colors are shown regarding this post: Luka Garza. On the Swarmcast, his father Frank, had this to say:

Without inferring too much, Garza is not hinging his decision on whether or not he would prefer to play another season in Iowa City or ply his trade professionally. He has already turned down European offers so it is not about the money. It’s the projection of the season - another lost chance to pursue his dream of “playing the last game” of a college basketball season - which has him “losing sleep.”

Establishing a final destination for the basketball season enhances that certainty.

It doesn’t just enhance it for Garza but other early draft entrants ahead of the August 3rd withdrawal deadline. It enhances it for teams, sponsors, and the NCAA itself. It also enables eight months of planning for the tournament to go off without a hitch.

As written early last month, there are still plenty of things we don’t know and questions which go unanswered no matter how much planning takes place. By establishing a more flexible schedule with a clear, and extended, end date in sight, it allows more certainty to take hold.