Christopher Marshall

Every year, when the calendar changes to March, the focus of people throughout the country changes as well. No matter what job someone has, or what their major is, college basketball fans all have the same field of study for an entire month: bracketology.

On the second weekend of March, ten committee members have an annual meeting to determine the field for the Division I NCAA Tournament. After that weekend, the production in America’s businesses come to a collective halt as people follow the progress of March Madness.

The Division II NCAA bracket has a different method to its madness. Rather than having a roomful of people decide on the 64 teams and their first round matchups, the field is set based on eight different regional rankings. At the end of the season, the top eight teams from each region make the tournament. This selection process does not have the excitement or the climatic ending Division I college basketball has, but there is a bigger problem than that affecting the tournament.

The bracket is unbalanced and forces some of the best teams in the country to play each other in first or second round games just because they are from the same region. It is easy to see the lack of balance just by looking at where the teams in the South Central regional stand in the national rankings. This regional, which includes Washburn, the rest of the MIAA conference and teams from surrounding states, has four teams in the top 11 of the women’s basketball coaches poll. Missouri Western, Washburn, West Texas A&M and Emporia State make up the top four teams in the regional rankings, and rank second, seventh, sixth and 11th, respectively in the national poll. None of the other seven regions have more than two teams in the top 15.

If the Division I method were used to seed the tournament, it would be impossible for teams ranked that high to play before the Sweet 16, and they probably would not meet until the Elite Eight. But with the way the regional selections are set up, the teams are guaranteed to match up with each other in the second round if they win their first game.

Pitting teams ranked so high against each other in the first two rounds is the equivalent of having men’s Division I teams like UCLA, Memphis, Texas A&M and Southern Illinois knock each other out before the first weekend of March Madness is even over. Those four men’s teams are ranked in the same places as the previously mentioned women’s teams, but are all likely to earn somewhere between a one and three seed on Selection Sunday, which means they would not meet until the third round or later.

Basing the selection of teams on regional rankings also diminishes the importance of conference play. In Division I, the best teams from the same conference are rewarded by being spread out in the bracket so they cannot play each other until the Elite Eight. The Division II tournament does the exact opposite. Rather than a conference’s top teams not matching up until the Elite Eight, there is only one, at most, that is given the opportunity to advance that far.

For the NCAA tournament to determine the true national champion, the best teams must be given the highest chance of advancing. As long as the tournament is seeded by region rather than talent, teams that deserve spots in the Final Four will square off in the first couple rounds, and the early matchups will end up being more competitive than the championship itself.