March Geography Madness!

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. Basically, what is the meaning of the “geographical” sections of the NCAA tournament?

It’s obviously not based on actual geography. Utah State and Southern Utah in the East? Maryland and Georgetown in the West? Hawaii and Mississippi in the Midwest? Michigan State, Penn State, Princeton and Providence in the South?

How are positions in the NCAA tournament really detemined?

The geographical designations normally make sense only in the sense of where the games are played. This is not even a hard-and-fast rule, however - recently, parts of the South Regional were played in Indianapolis.

Also, the Selection Committee aims to fit a #1 seeded team into their geographical area. If a Pac-10 team happens to be a top team (like Stanford this year), they will nearly invariably be placed at the top seed in the West, for example. Where this scheme gets dicey is when one major conmference features 2 powerhouse teams. A prime example of this is happening right now - Big Ten members Illinois and Michigan State State both recieved #1 seeds. Illinois got the sensible 1-spot in the MidWest, while MSU was shipped to the South.

The Midwest & East generally receive #1 seeds that match geographically, due to the perennial strengths of the Big Ten & Atlantic Coast conferences. Other conferences generally fluctuate more in strength year in & year out. So more often than not, a #1 seed has to shipped to either the West or South regional.

As for the remaining seeds? Geography is not even considered. Hasn’t been for many moons. Your guess is as good as mine as to why.

Geographical placement of teams in the NCAA pretty much ended in 1979 once the tournament was seeded. It became more important then for the tournament to have parity throughout the regions rather than having teams make short trips.

One factor that allowed this to happen was money. Until the 1980s, schools could actually host first and second round games. Now a team cannot play on its home court except for the Final Four and since those are all played in big domes now, nobody would be affected.

However, prior to the 1970s, the NCAA tournament wasn’t nearly as much of a big deal as it was now. Few games prior to the Final Four were on national TV. The Final Four would be held in places like Cole Field House instead of the Metrodome. Teams were kept in their own region to save on travel costs and boost attendance. In the 1970s, nobody would think that anyone in Memphis would pay good money to go see Cal play Fresno State.

However, this year, those two teams are playing out there in the South region.

UCLA benefitted greatly from the geographical placement of teams during the Wooden era. The rest of the teams in the West Region during the 1960s were not particularly strong. Not until Jerry Tarkanian built up Long Beach State was there any serious competition for UCLA.

That’s not to say that those UCLA teams were still not head and shoulders above all the rest, but they usually weren’t tested until the Final Four, if at all.