COLUMN: A Malat Musing: Revitalizing American Greatness

Updated: 05/06/2014 1:35 PM KSTP.com By: Phil Malat

John Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball championships with UCLA.
John Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball championships with UCLA.
Photo: Photo: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

It is unmistakable that current American culture is more passionate about athletics than anything else.  The only thing that rivals it today is an anthropomorphic interest in Fido.  As such, how about employing this abundance of passion to promote our best interest?

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship teeters on the precipice of the absurd and is, therefore, in need of an overhaul.

To begin with, this tournament is intended to be a national championship endeavor designed to determine which team of athletes is the finest and very best in the country. 

Therefore, it would logically follow that only the finest and the best, based upon outstanding regular season performance and accomplishments, should be invited to compete. Rather, greed-driven collegiate wisdom invites teams that have no hope of winning anything, teams that not only fail to meet the qualification of the finest and the best, but teams that year in and year out get embarrassed by huge defeats. This year’s tournament continued to offer even more compelling evidence and validation for the contention.

In the first 32 games, 11 where blowouts while another four were flukes. This is not the exception but rather the rule.  Every year something close to 50 percent of the initial games prove noncompetitive and an absolute bust.

So for openers, the field of teams needs to be reduced.   

When the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, former Marquette head coach and television commentator Al McGuire sarcastically suggested the NCAA may as well invite every Division I team into the tournament. When McGuire won the NIT championship in 1970 only 41 total teams competed in BOTH the NCAA and NIT - 25 teams in the NCAA and 16 in the NIT. In 1977 when he won the national championship, there were 32 teams in the NCAA field. 

John Wooden won his 10 national championships - including seven in a row from 1964 to 1975. Twenty-five teams competed in the NCAA tournament from 1964 until 1975, expanding to 32 teams in 1975. 

These two fellas had to compete and succeed by playing only the finest and the VERY best every year. Revamping the tournament to 32 teams would be an excellent place to begin in determining if the field should once again contain 25 teams.

Next, the seeding process must be amended to resemble some sort of sanity.

Every year the seeding is doctored. The NCAA stacks the committee with members who clearly understand that America loves the underdog. They are furthermore committed to manipulating this emotional irrationality by creating ludicrous upsets through their seeding.  This naturally creates interest while, most importantly, enriching all involved in this charade.  This has gotten way out of hand.

The committee is now in desperate need of basketball devotees and experts, those who love and study the game, those who will be committed to creating a fair system of competition leading to far more exciting and memorable contests. There is no reason why almost every game, every year, cannot be competitive – ABSOLUTLY NONE.   

Finally, all of this would have the effect of returning the NIT to its worthy prominence of basketball respectability. Those of us who remember when the NIT was a prestigious tournament and its winner was considered among basketball's elite, can validate how much more enjoyable it was to follow two foremost tournaments. 

When McGuire’s Marquette Warriors won the NIT in 1970 they were heralded as the NIT champs on the marquees of every school they visited the following year - a marvelous accomplishment something a school and a whole community could be proud of.

Revitalizing a renewed respect and excitement for excellence in American would not only be refreshing but would greatly aid in returning America to the honor of a great country.  Continuing our reverence for the underdog and our enthusiasm for mediocrity, the lucky achievement, the fluke, will certainly not serve us well for the future. 

Our committed determination toward excellence spawned our greatest achievements and a wonderful sense of national pride – a pride we could once experience through John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. If we truly aspire to greatness, to being the finest and the best, then demanding exactly that of the NCAA college basketball tournament may be the perfect place to begin that revitalization process.

Phil Malat is a columnist for KSTP.com