Bring on One and Done

ncaa tournament

Liam Day explains why the “one-and-done format” in the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting way for it to be done.

The NCAA Tournament begins tomorrow. (Yes, I know the play-in games for the new 68-team format started last night, but, to me, they don’t count.)

Despite my thoughts on the state of amateurism in big time college athletics, I will, as I have every year since I was a junior in high school, when I skipped school to watch it, take the day off from work just for the NCAA Tournament.

Unlike Jason Whitlock, who doesn’t seem to appreciate upsets, I watch the first round of the NCAA Tournament precisely so I can see the Lehighs of the world beat the Dukes. To me, that is what makes the tournament so special.

Jason Whitlock believes the tournament should determine who the best team in the country is and that a one-and-done format doesn’t achieve that determination because it leaves too much to luck: a team’s best player gets in foul trouble or an opponent gets hot. But, if we didn’t have a one-and-done format, we wouldn’t have had North Carolina State’s last minute win over Houston 30 years ago and Jim Valvano’s subsequent dash all over the floor to hug anyone and everyone who would hug him back.

We wouldn’t have had Villanova over Georgetown or Kansas over Oklahoma or Valparaiso over Mississippi or any of Princeton’s near misses or, in 1996, its finally breaking through for the first time since the field expanded to 64 teams by beating defending champion UCLA with what else, but a backdoor layup.

When Butler made its first run to the final game in 2010, no one would have claimed they were the country’s best team that year had they pulled off the upset of Duke in the championship. But had Gordon Hayward’s last second heave from half court gone in it would have gone down as one of the two or three greatest moments in American sports.

The best analogy for the NCAA Tournament is the FA Cup, the British football tournament open to all levels of competition, league and non-league alike. Upsets are as much a part of the Cup’s history as they are of the NCAA Tournament’s. Just this year non-league Luton Town defeated Norwich City, which competes in the Premiership.

Yes, the better team usually wins in the FA Cup. The last non-league team to pull off an upset the size of Luton Town’s was 1989. Still, it’s the possibility of the upset that makes the Cup so special.

And so tomorrow and Friday, as I devote 36 magical hours to the sport of college basketball, I’ll be looking for, hoping against hope for the next great upset. I’m looking at you Bucknell, and you St. Mary’s, and you South Dakota State, and you Northwestern State. Don’t let me down.

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About Liam Day

Liam Day has been a youth worker, teacher, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains Apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma Stymie, the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. He lives in Boston, where he works as a public health professional. He is the Sports Editor at The Good Men Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @LiamDay7.

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