Basketball: Time for NCAA to scrap its formula

No one is arguing that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has a tough job.

They must pick the most deserving teams, seed them properly, then fit them into a schedule that is as fair as possible to everyone.

The highest-seeded teams are “protected” through favorable geographic placement. As they should be.

But in the interests of balancing the seeds — No 8. vs. No. 9, No. 7 vs. No. 10, etc — very little geographic consideration is given to anyone else.

In other words, faithful fans, parents, students, devoted alums, perennial season-ticket holders — you can watch on TV. That’s why the basketball gods invented CBS, right?

It’s time for the NCAA to scrap its current system in the interests of the the folks who go to the games. The single mom whose son plays on the team. Or the struggling student who has waited four years for his team to make the 65-team field. Or just the regular family of four who wants to support their school.

Hello, NCAA, have you heard about this thing called a recession. It’s a little expensive for fans of Cal or Saint Mary’s, given three days’ notice, to book flights and hotel rooms in Jacksonville, Fla., or Providence, R.I.

As of Tuesday, three of eight first-round regional sites still had tickets available. Is anyone surprised?

Fans at HP Pavilion in San Jose are being asked to adopt teams from Butler, Marquette and Texas-El Paso, while two local teams that would pack the joint are being shipped nearly 3,000 miles from home.

The most insane example of this came in 2001 when Cal and Fresno State were paired against one another in a first-round game at . . . Memphis. They could have played the game on outdoor courts along Highway 99 and it would have made more sense.

The NCAA has tried to remedy the situation with its “pod” arrangements, where teams in different regions of the bracket can be placed in the same location for geographic reasons.

Well, folks, it ain’t working.

It’s just not enough.

Here’s what should happen: Continue to “protect” the top four seeds in each region. Place them where it makes the most sense, even if there’s a distinct advantage for them, because they have earned it. And match them against the lowest-rated teams, just as is done now, even if the travel is horrendous for them. Someone’s got to pay the freight, and the bottom-feeders haven’t earned special treatment.

That leaves the 32 teams in the middle, the teams meticulously seeded 5 through 12. For those teams, the committee’s primary consideration should be geography. If the seeding needs to be tweaked a bit, so be it. Any coach out there would swap a line or two in the seeding process to be 1,500 miles closer to home.

Any fan, parent or booster would agree.

And so would the host cities, who would benefit with sold-out arenas, hotels, restaurants and busy airports and cab drivers.

I took those middle 32 teams and rearranged them into four regional groups of eight. To make it work, I had to move two West teams (UTEP, New Mexico State) into the Midwest, and three Midwest teams (Xavier, Michigan, Minnesota) to the East.

Here are the four groups I created with the current seeding of those teams in parenthesis:

— West: BYU (7), Cal (8), Gonzaga (8), UNLV (8), Saint Mary’s (10), San Diego State (11), Washington (11), Utah State (12).

— Midwest: Butler (5), Marquette (6), Notre Dame (6), Oklahoma State (7), Northern Iowa (9), Missouri (10), UTEP (12), New Mexico State (12).

— South: Texas A&M (5), Tennessee (6), Clemson (7), Texas (8), Florida State (9), Louisville (9), Florida (10), Georgia Tech (10).

— East: Temple (5), Michigan State (5), Xavier (6), Richmond (7), Wake Forest (9), Old Dominion (11), Minnesota (11), Cornell (12).

Next, I assigned the schools to sites within their region, using georgraphy as the No. 1 criteria, followed by balancing the matchups so two No. 5 seeds weren’t squaring off in the first round, that sort of thing.

Again, it’s not perfect, but the upside (geography) far outweighs the downside (ideal competitive equality).

In my bracket, it may even be possible for fans to go watch their team. That ought to be worth something, right?

Here’s my new bracket:

at Oklahoma City
1 Kansas vs. 16 Lehigh
9 Northern Iowa vs. 8 Notre Dame
at Spokane
11 Wasington vs. 7 BYU
4 Maryland vs. 13 Houston
at Providence
5 Temple vs. 12 Cornell
3 Georgetown vs. 14 Ohio
at Milwaukee
6 Marquette vs. 12 UTEP
2 Ohio State vs. 15 UC Santa Barbara

at Buffalo
1 Syracuse vs. 16 Vermont
5 Xavier vs. 11 Minnesota
at San Jose
8 Cal vs. 11 San Diego St.
4 Vanderbilt vs. 13 Murray St.
at Milwaukee
5 Butler vs. 12 New Mexico St.
3 Pitt vs. 14 Oakland
at Oklahoma City
7 Oklahoma St. vs. 10 Missouri
2 Kansas St. vs.15 North Texas

at New Orleans
1 Kentucky vs. 16 East Tennessee St.
9 Florida St. vs. 8 Texas
at Jacksonville
7 Clemson vs. 9 Louisville
4 Wisconsin vs. 13 Wofford
at San Jose
10 Saint Mary’s vs. 8 UNLV
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Montana
at Buffalo
5 Michigan State vs. 11 Old Dominion
1 West Virginia vs. 15 Morgan State

at Jacksonville
1 Duke vs. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff
6 Tennessee vs. 10 Florida
at Spokane
8 Gonzaga vs. 12 Utah State
4 Purdue vs. 13 Siena
at New Orleans
8 Georgia Tech vs. 5 Texas A&M
3 Baylor vs. 14 Sam Houston St.
at Providence
7 Richmond vs. 9 Wake Forest
2 Villanova vs. 15 Robert Morris

Jeff Faraudo