Jaffe: NCAA Tourney is as good as it gets

March 31, 2011, 1:35 a.m.

The other day, I randomly flipped on ESPN to see Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd debating various poll questions on SportsNation. I usually find the arguments fairly obvious but moderately amusing, so I was half-watching when they got to the question “Which NCAA postseason do you prefer?” The choices available were the NCAA Tournament in basketball or the BCS in football.

Wait, seriously? That’s even a question?

I love college football, and bowl season is one of the highlights of my year. But have you seen the NCAA Tournament this year? Even if all the games were played by the Globetrotters and the Generals with Tim Donaghy as the referee, they could not possibly create more exciting, unbelievable games than this tournament has had.

Here we sit with only four teams left, and there are more double-digit seeds than ones or twos (something that has never happened before) and exactly zero outright regular-season conference champions. The path to this crazy quartet was even crazier than Dick Vitale at a Duke-UNC game . . .

One Final Four team has won all of its tournament games by single digits, including two nail-biting finishes won by a basket in the final five seconds. Another Final Four team finished ninth in its own conference and barely escaped its Elite Eight game, with two potential game-winning three-pointers missed in the final seconds. A third Final Four team tied a record by winning its four games by a combined 13 points, including an overtime game and two of the craziest finishes you will ever see.

Oh yeah, and there’s also VCU. The Rams’ five wins in 12 days over teams from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12—with four of the five wins coming by double digits—after having one of the weakest at-large profiles ever make this Cinderella story more unimaginable than the original Cinderella story itself. After this, maybe they’ll need to call fairy tales “VCU stories.”

In any case, it is impossible to be a sports fan and not acknowledge how incredible this year’s tournament has been. Even if you’re a devastated Pitt fan having nightmares about free throws and rebounds, you can at least admit that the other 63 games so far have been ridiculous. I mean, heck, I lost my bracket pool to my mom (that’s what happens when you let your relatives pick randomly and your dad went to VCU for medical school), and this has still been the greatest month of neutral sports fandom of my life.

How could this possibly be compared to the BCS? Yes, that BCS. The one that induces outrage every year. The one with more flaws than Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video. The one that only exists because no alternative solution would make the people in charge as much money.

I honestly could not believe the question was even being asked. As I expected, the results were overwhelmingly in my (and common sense’s) favor. However, what bugged me even more than the question itself was Colin Cowherd’s argument in favor of the BCS.

He started off with one of the most common and obviously flawed phrases in defense of the BCS: “College football has a playoff. It starts on Sept. 1.” Really? So a playoff is a system where you can lose once or twice as long as enough other teams lose too, but you can’t even enter the playoff if you’re not a school with a big enough name? By the college football “playoff” rules, right about now VCU and Butler would be told that they aren’t from power conferences, so they are eliminated from the title race, making Connecticut vs. Kentucky the de-facto championship game.

The argument then goes into how people think Cinderella stories are fun, but then they want to see the best teams win. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the “best teams” argument more irritatingly useless than the latest update on the Barry Bonds trial. How can you quantify who the “best” teams are? There are millions of ways.

Which is exactly why there is a postseason. Is VCU a “better” team than Kansas? Who cares—the Rams won. Were the Giants the “best” team in baseball last year, even though they didn’t clinch their own division until the final weekend of the regular season? They won when it mattered, so that makes them the best. Were the Packers the “best” team in the NFL, even though they lost their own division? That Super Bowl ring will tell you they were.

The whole argument of whether or not a playoff really crowns the “right” champion is irrelevant. Each team knows what it has to do in its own sport to win the title, so the team that does that is the best, which is why playoff games are so entrancing.

That brings us back to this year’s tournament. I certainly didn’t predict it, and if you watched a minute of the regular season this year, you didn’t either. But the four college basketball teams vying for the title of the best in the country are UConn, Kentucky, Butler and VCU.

And really, bracket competitions and favorite teams aside, would you have it any other way?

Jacob Jaffe would like to remind you that today it is Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday. He he he so excited. Have a ball with him today at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.

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