Sports

NCAA tourney does not need changing

For my money, the single best format for choosing a champion from all the major American sports is the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

So, of course, the powers that be are hellbent on fixing what isn't broken by expanding the field to 96 teams.

Asi es la vida.

I'm still going to watch a watered-down March Madness and (try to) keep up with a cumbersome, 96-team bracket.

The irony of the big changes being made to the Big Dance is that the championship-determining component of every other major American sport has more need for revamping than the NCAA tourney.

Here is what needs to be different about the other sports and the way they pick their champs.

NBA playoffs

What needs to change: Shorten the first-round playoff series back from seven games to five.

Why: You'd have a better chance for upsets in shorter series. Yet non-competitive series would end quicker.

(It would also be better if the NBA Finals was set up in a 2-2-1-1-1 format like earlier playoff rounds, instead of the 2-3-2 that is in effect only for the championship series).

Major League Baseball

What needs to change: End the practice of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the representative of the league that wins the All-Star Game.

Why: This is the single dumbest rule in mainstream U.S. sports. Who wins an exhibition game among teams that play together one time should have no impact on picking the season champion from among squads that play all year.

How about something radical like giving home field in the World Series to the participating team that had the best record?

(Unlike in pro basketball, I don't favor shortening first-round playoff series to five games. In baseball, pitching is so important that a relatively mediocre team with one dominant pitcher could beat a far superior team in a five-game playoff behind that one ace).

NFL playoffs

What needs to change: The sudden-death overtime rules.

Why: It's not fair to both teams.

This off-season, the NFL has addressed, to a degree, my No. 1 pet peeve: The fact that both teams don't get at least one offensive series in overtime scenarios.

Under the new rule adopted for playoff games only, if the team that gets the football first in the extra period kicks a field goal, the opponent gets at least one chance to tie or win the game (if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown, sudden death rules remain in effect).

Which is a slight improvement on the status quo.

One thing I don't like is that the new overtime policy applies only to the post-season. As best as possible, the same rules should be used in regular season and post-season games.

Long term, I'd like to see the NFL borrow its overtime policy from basketball. Play a set number of minutes (say 10) in overtime periods, then see who is ahead at the finish.

In the regular season, if the game is still tied at the end, you'd have a tie. During the playoffs, you could go to sudden death after the first overtime period.

NASCAR Chase for the Cup

What needs to change: Races won in the "regular season" count for more points in the "playoffs" than races won in the Chase.

Why: That makes no sense.

A driver who qualifies for the Chase gets 10 bonus points in the playoffs for each race he's won during the 26-event regular season. However, a race won in the Chase does not carry any bonus points.

NASCAR is trying to put a premium on winning races, which is the right impulse. But the more logical way to do it would be simply to award more points (say 50 extra points) to the race winner, period, and use the same scoring system throughout the season.

College Football BCS

What needs to change: Everything.

Why: The Bowl Championship Series is the worst of all worlds. It is essentially a two-team playoff chosen by a totally arbitrary process.

Under the old-school bowl system, I was against a playoff. It didn't bother me that there could be multiple national champions. I enjoyed the arguments and liked the fact that more than one fan base, in some years, got to celebrate a "championship."

The unfair nature of the BCS has tipped me completely in the opposite direction.

Let's kill it, knock one game off the football regular season and start a 16-team playoff to pick a national champion.

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