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This issue cuts right to the heart of what you think the purpose of the tournament is. Clearly it's...

This issue cuts right to the heart of what you think the purpose of the tournament is. Clearly it's not just for determining a champion, or else it would be smaller than 64 teams and the Patriot League wouldn't have a guaranteed spot.

This is true, damning, and dispositive. The NCAA basketball tournament is an entertaining spectacle. As a method of determining a national champion, it is preposterous. Go 'Dawgs!

With the thrill of the unexpected, though, comes the unavoidable tradeoff of a certain kind of...

With the thrill of the unexpected, though, comes the unavoidable tradeoff of a certain kind of justice for obviously superior teams -- such as, say, Kansas, which defeated rival Kansas State three times en route to the Big 12's regular season and tournament championships, only to watch the Wildcats move closer to the national championship because their inexplicable lapse against an inferior opponent came at a more convenient time in the season -- whose otherwise brilliant campaigns can go up in a blink. (The classic football example is the 2007 Patriots, arguably the greatest team in NFL history, whose perfect season was extinguished by a six-loss team that not only lost to New England in the regular season but finished three full games behind the champion of its own division.) For all the BCS' faults, producing an "unworthy" champion has never been one of them, as opposed to the occasional Villanova, N.C. State and Arizona in the basketball tournament; the Series' sins have always been at the opposite end, of leaving obviously worthy contenders out of the mix rather than letting stragglers in. . . . There is a middle ground between those competing poles that recognizes that a playoff should be open enough to allow all worthy contenders, restrictive enough to exclude the riffraff, and designed with the goal of producing a champion that has inherently produced the best season by virtue of winning the playoff. Both Brian Cook's tightly restricted six-team proposal (which swears off automatic bids for anyone) and Dan Wetzel's expansive 16-team scheme (which admits all conference champions, even from the Sun Belt) come pretty close. Of course I have my own preferences somewhere between those two plans, preferably appropriating an Australian Rules format. But this post isn't about conjuring up specific plans, or we'd be here all day -- the first priority is to spread of the gospel of any playoff; the details can come later. It's only to recognize that March Madness, for all its enthralling surprises, is always an important reminder that whatever makes it through when the time comes -- and I still say it's going to come -- should consciously heed both extremes.

Dr. Saturday on a college football playoff, at his best and worst: his best, because he is telling the clamoring rabble to be careful for what they wish; his worst, because, ultimately, he gives in to the temptation himself. In everything complex in life, from college football to health care reform, "the details can come later" is a recipe for disaster. Those five words come at the start of every well-meaning zealot's public works project to pave the road to Hell with his own misplaced good intentions. Go 'Dawgs!
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