Bracket takes BCS out of equation

Split national champions? Thank goodness basketball doesn't rely on computers, just a 65-team bracket.

Updated: January 6, 2004, 10:23 AM ET
By Joe Lunardi | Special to ESPN.com

Congratulations to the LSU Trojans. Or should that read the USC Tigers? It is indeed a delicious coincidence when the sweet science of bracketology returns to ESPN.com on the same day college football concludes yet another ridiculous postseason.

Split national champions? Not in college basketball. And certainly not at the end of the still nearly perfect NCAA Tournament. You can be sure that when they cut down the nets in San Antonio on April 5, there will be no debating the final outcome.

But why bracketology? And why now? Mainly, we just can't help ourselves. We also want to take the earliest possible look at who has the best chance -- and why -- to be a real national champion three months from tonight. With conference play taking center stage this week, we'll get an even better idea of who comprises the nation's elite as well as who might have gotten a little too fat on those holiday cupcakes.

In these earliest days of the new year, only one thing is certain: the bracket projections you see here are going to change a bundle between now and Selection Sunday.

For instance, there will not be three No. 1 seeds from a single conference. Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech might enjoy that perch for the moment, but the upcoming ACC wars will be the tip of the iceberg in determining who sits atop the actual bracket on March 14.

In the meantime, take these projections with a whole shaker of salt. They'll get better (and more accurate) as the weeks move along. Which is a whole lot more than we can say about the Bowl Championship Series. So, with apologies to David Letterman, here are the Top 10 reasons why college basketball is better than college football:

1. If the BCS ran college basketball, the last two teams in the tournament (Southern Cal and LSU, let's say) would never actually play one another. They'd hold the national semifinals on Saturday, then send everybody home with a bad case of unfinished business.

2. If bracketologists ran college football, a playoff would be established in which every team with a realistic chance to win the tournament is included. The argument that the last team left out of the bracket will complain is moot. The last team left out of the NCAA basketball bracket complains, too, but doesn't have a legitimate claim to the championship. The lowest seed to win the NCAA title was a No. 8 (Villanova, 1985); at-large teams are typically included all the way down to the No. 12 or No. 13 seeds. This is a HUGE margin of error compared to the greedy, two-team BCS format.

3. If the BCS ran college basketball, UConn (and most other elite contenders) would already be eliminated from this season's national title hunt. That Preseason NIT loss to Georgia Tech might very well have been fatal for the Huskies.

4. If bracketologists ran college football, 47.9 percent of all Division I teams would not qualify for postseason play. That's the deal now with 56 of the 117 I-A football schools going to bowl games. Even counting an NCAA play-in game and the expanded NIT, less than a third of all DI basketball members (32.2 percent) play on after Selection Sunday.

5. If the BCS ran college basketball, the nation's top teams would play their last regular season games in mid-February, then sit idle for more than a month awaiting a national championship game for which they'd be rusty and over-prepared.

6. If bracketologists ran college football, student-athletes in that sport would be allowed to compete in December the same way basketball players can. Why is it that football players can't leave campus for weekend games while their basketball (not to mention I-AA, DII and DIII football) counterparts go anywhere, anytime during an allegedly pivotal academic month? If the response is that football's season is too long, then stop playing games in August or Labor Day weekend when the weather is too hot to begin with.

7. If the BCS ran college basketball, any team seeded lower than No. 2 overall would play single games in random pairings as part of the Meaningless.Com Invitational. Sites would include glamour destinations such as Detroit, El Paso, Shreveport and Boise.

8. If bracketologists ran college football, we would be subject to the same second-guessing, debate and projections that make basketball's Selection Sunday among the very best days in sports. We would then deliver a college football tournament that would shatter every record for ratings, exposure, interest and sponsorship dollars. Of course, non-BCS members would have to get a piece of that considerable pie (but I digress...).

9. If the BCS ran college basketball, anyone with a computer would be permitted to include his or her power ratings in an equation to select and seed the NCAA Tournament field. Say what you want about the NCAA men's basketball committee (and I have!!), but its members actually watch games and debate the merits of respective teams like human beings. They don't leave the job to spreadsheets, media members with axes to grind, sports information directors posing as coaches or mathematicians who might not know one end of the football from the other. A formula shouldn't tell us Oklahoma deserves to play for a national title when the Sooners weren't even No. 1 in their own conference.

10. If bracketologists ran college football, you'd get to read my bracket projections virtually year-round!

Instead, we'll have to settle for the next 10 weeks.

Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at jlunardi@comcast.net.

Joe Lunardi | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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