Bob Smizik: The unimportance of seeding

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No greater farce is hoisted on the American sporting public than the agonizing that takes place over the monumentally unimportant yet nationally scrutinized semi-religion known as bracketology: In short, the seeding of the NCAA basketball tournament.

In the professional leagues, seeding is automatic and is based on record. That is impossible in the many leagues that comprise the NCAA, which means it must be done by opinion. The opinions that count are the members of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Those members, quite understandably, stay quiet during the season since much is still to be determined.

That doesn’t stop the noise. In the weeks, even months, in advance of the official announcement -- which is today -- the speculation of seeding goes on and on and on. It has become big business. Just ask Joe Lunardi or Jerry Palm.

When Pitt was soaring through an easy non-conference and early ACC schedule, dreams of a top-four seed were openly discussed. Now that the Pitt season is over, it’s pretty much known where it will be set. At last look, Lunardi, who works for ESPN, had Pitt as a ninth seed. Palm, of CBSSports.com, had it at 10.

And, incredibly, people are arguing over the miniscule difference.

Question: What is the NCAA tournament most famous for?

Answer: The unpredictability of its games.

Tournament lore is filled with astonishing upsets that live on in the minds of fans. Just the mention of Coppin State will bring great memories to Pittsburgh basketball fans although their stunning performances at the Mellon Arena occurred more than a decade ago. And it’s not one upset a year. It is multiple. The tournament never fails to provide a glittering array of surprises.

But with unpredictability being its calling card, people are debating whether its better for Pitt to be a nine or a ten. Repeat after me: It makes no difference.

A ten-seed, supporters of that slot point out, will mean Pitt won’t have to play a No. 1 seed in the second round. Such opinion ignores several valid points.

Historically, Pitt has a notoriously bad record in the tournament, which should prevent anyone from thinking beyond the first round. Furthermore, a 10 seed would play an ever-so-slightly more difficult game in the first round.

It’s the same with first and second-seeds. People act like there’s a monumental difference. There are the barest of differences. It’s not like a No. 1 has its future plate filled with games against the likes of Mt. St. Mary and a No. 2 will see only teams the equivalent of the Miami Heat.

None of this is to suggest that arguing seeding is not good fun. It can be a great sports argument. But when you really think about it, it’s an argument almost about nothing.


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