Billy Donovan: Players and coaches deserve a bigger NCAA tournament
If sports are supposed to be about the kids, why not increase participation?
College hoops has been locked into one-month window: March is all that matters
When you're dealing with a single-elimination situation, anything can happen
I've always liked the idea of an expanded NCAA tournament. A lot of coaches feel that way. Why? Most importantly, it should expand for the players.
I think it's difficult for a player to go through college and never get a chance to play in an NCAA tournament. I went through four years at Providence and only got to experience one my senior year. We went to the Final Four, and what an unbelievable experience it was. These kids work so hard. If it's supposed to be about these kids, and you're saying that the NCAA tournament is the biggest sporting event in our country, why would you not want to have more kids participate?
It also should expand because everyone is being evaluated on what happens in March. Coaches are judged on whether their team makes the tournament and what their team does in the tournament, even though tournament performance can sometimes be misleading. But that's when everyone is watching. Our sport has been locked into a one-month window. When we start practicing, you're dealing with the playoffs for pro baseball. Then you've got college football and the NFL. That takes you to February. It's not until the middle to February -- right around Valentine's Day -- that people start focusing on college basketball. There will be a window here for about four weeks where everybody's focusing on college basketball.
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When you're dealing with a single-elimination situation, anything can happen. The average fan really doesn't follow the season. The mainstream fan just says "March is the only thing that matters. Everything else doesn't make a difference." I still disagree with that, because I think you've got to look at the body of work for the entire year. For example, if a team has been ranked in the top 10 or the top 15 the whole year, and in a one-and-done situation they don't play well, someone gets hurt, they have foul trouble or there's a crazy play and they lose, I don't think that means they had a terrible year.
We start working these guys out Sept. 1. We're the only sport on campus that covers two semesters. So it's hard for us as coaches to sit there and say that the only thing that matters is March. It's not the NBA playoffs where you're playing the best of seven. Anything can happen in a one-and-done. I even made a comment when we won the national championship in 2006. I said if we'd started the tournament over, we might not be standing up there. But that's also what makes it so great. It's like the lottery. You've got to be in it to win it. The more pieces you have, the more talent you have, the more chemistry you have, your odds of winning go up.
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We're in a society where it's a microwave type of thing. You've got to have instant success, and you've got to have it right now. The value of building has been diminished. Fans and athletic directors see instant success somewhere, and they want to know why they can't have it at their school. When people have quick success, everyone thinks there's a formula to it. There is no formula. Sometimes it's luck.
I look at my first two years here. We had two losing seasons, and then we get Mike Miller and all those guys and we go play for the national championship. Then we have five straight years of getting knocked out in the first or second round. Then we lose David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson and we're going to be down. Then we win back-to-back national championships.
My athletic director, Jeremy Foley, understands the nature of athletics and the ups and downs from one year to the next. Some coaches aren't so lucky. Maybe if I'm working for a different guy, I don't last long enough to win those national titles. If you make the tournament a little bit bigger, it makes it a little easier on administrators to evaluate what's really important instead of just whether a guy made the tournament. What they should be evaluating is if the guy's a good person. Is he good to the kids? Do they get their degrees? Do they play hard? Now, I'm not saying that should be the recipe to keep your job for 20 years. Eventually, winning is going to play a role. But good coaches will win if they get enough time.
What the country loves about the tournament are upsets and Cinderella. Immediately, when the brackets are done, the first thing that's said is, "Who's on upset alert?" They want to see upsets. I should know. My team at Providence upset a few teams on the way to the Final Four in 1987. Upsets are an incredible inspiration for people in their own lives. They sit there and say, "I can overcome. I can conquer. I'm an underdog." I understand how people can gravitate toward that. But what the country also loves are the great teams, the teams we're in awe of.
I understand the human element. I understand a fan taking off from work Thursday and Friday and watching all these games. But if the tournament was expanded, I still think it could be the same type of thing -- with more people being included.
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