By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Each year when the brackets are drawn for the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament there seems to be a lot of moaning and groaning about the selections, who got in and who didn’t; the seeding, who should have received a better seed; and finally who will make it to the Final Four because they have the easiest path.
Each year Kentucky fans seem to groan and complain the loudest about having the most difficult path to the Final Four. This year was no different.
Standing in the way of the Wildcats path to the Final Four were Northern Kentucky, a team that was better than its 15 seed indicated, a very under seeded Wichita State team that had won 30 games during the regular season and a matchup with a 30 win UCLA team that had beaten UK in Rupp Arena earlier in the year.
This led to a Regional Final game with number one seed North Carolina in Memphis. Each of the games listed were ” made for TV” games created by the NCAA and CBS to hopefully increase viewership of the South bracket of the tournament. As we all know more viewers equal more advertising dollars which equals more revenue for CBS and ultimately for the NCAA.
This same scenario was repeated in other brackets in the tournament with the NCAA selection committee creating favorable television matchups to try to increase viewership.
Of course since CBS recently signed an eight year 8.8 billion dollar deal to continue broadcasting the tournament through 2032 the NCAA selection committee is obligated to give CBS what they want – better TV matchups.
So far it is working. Heading into the Final Four weekend viewership is up 10 percent over last year and will make this year’s tournament the third most watched NCAA Men’s tournament since 1993. The UK-North Carolina Regional Final game was the second most watched Regional Final game in NCAA history. Kentucky has also been involved in several of the other most watched Regional Final games including the double overtime thriller against Michigan State in 2005 , the 38-0 team that beat Notre Dame with 2 end of game free throws by Andrew Harrison and of course the loss to Duke in the 1992 Regional Final still considered by many to be the greatest college basketball game ever played.
So if you feel that the selection committee tends to make more difficult pathways for some teams while others seem to get an easier road, you are probably right. But if you think they are biased towards one team or another simply out of spite that is probably not correct. The bias they show is most likely toward setting up games that will increase viewership which in turn allows the NCAA to continue signing extensions with CBS for multi-billion dollar amounts.
So if you are hoping that one year soon UK will draw into a bracket that allows them an easier path to the Final Four, don’t hold your breath. Since UK Basketball appears to be the goose that lays the golden eggs, don’t expect the committee to stop reaching into the nest and grabbing a handful each year at tournament time.