The Issue

We all love the NCAA Tournament. Every March and April, millions of people fill out their brackets in hopes of winning money bragging rights over coworkers, college roommates, or just a random collection of individuals. Americans bet $9.2 billion on March Madness, most of it done outside the friendly confines of Las Vegas.

What makes the whole event better is the type of people who bet – which ranges from diehard fans to people who pick based on team nicknames alone (which may sometimes be the same person). It adds excitement to what is usually the kickoff to springtime sporting events such as baseball and baseball (couldn’t think of another sport… oh wait, golf)

So what’s the problem (in my humble opinion?)

It’s the same stuff every year. It’s repetitive – to the point where the NCAA added 4 teams, and a play-in round and nearly everyone disregards it in their brackets. And while we all get excited for when a 14 or 15 seed winning in the first round, we never really think about the 2 or 3 seed that spent their entire season winning 25+ games and a conference title only to get knocked off because of a lucky shot or errant call. Thirty some games of hard work and effort and it only takes one loss to a mid-major to negativity define the career of the players, coaches, fans, and colleges that lost. And while those low seeds get their time in the sun, with a few rare exceptions, they get crushed by another team two days later and are immediately forgotten.

So how would I fix it?

The Fix

Rule 1: The first two rounds are replaced with a round-robin tournament between 16 groups of 4 teams each

Instead of playing the first two round games, where a top seed could get picked off due to one bad game, each team plays three games, with the winner of the group moving onto the Sweet 16. I would keep the host cities the same, along with the grouping of teams so that higher seeds get better matches. So one group would have a #1, #8, #9, and #16 seed, just like a grouping in the tournament. Another would have a #2, #7, #10, and #15 and so on…

Games would begin on Thursday and end Sunday. Half the groups would play Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, while the others play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This would be no different than a conference tournament except each team would know their opponents beforehand.

This system would remove some of the ‘error’ from major upsets. And as for the one-bid conference teams, imagine if they did advance. No longer could you say it was a fluke seeing that would have to win a minimum of 2 out of their 3 games to make it. Everyone who makes the Sweet 16 will deserve it more than ever.

Rule 2: Three-way tiebreakers in groups will be decided by seeding

If two teams tie, the team that won the head-to-head matchup advances. But with 16 groups, you are going to have a scenario where three teams finish 2-1 (with the last place going 0-3). How to decide the group winner? I recommend it goes by seeding. This is where regular season performance plays in. Get a higher seed and get an extra step ahead of everyone else. And top seeds in groups won’t be given to just anyone because …

Rule 3: Only conference tournament winners can get a top 16 seed

This one is going to wreck everything. A team cannot receive one of the top 16 group seedings without winning a conference tournament. This is exciting to me because first, it adds a level of intrigue to the major conferences such as the ACC and Big Ten where the regular season winners have little to play for. A team like North Carolina or Kansas could lose in their conference tournament and are still be guaranteed a decent seed. With this rule, they are now playing for a group top seed, which as I remind you, goes far in determining who makes it to the Sweet 16.

I’ll explain the list of flaws with this rule later on, but I believe it now takes people back to the days when winning the ACC or Big Ten truly meant something.

Rule 4: The Sweet 16 is seeded based on the remaining overall seeds (not Group Seeding)

Most people don’t realize, but the 68 teams selected for the tournament are seeded from 1 to 68 by the selection committee. We only typically here about who is #1 and who are the last 4 at-large teams in. After the tournament begins, everyone stops caring. Now with this rule, these seeds will be used to re-seed the tournament heading into the Final 16 teams.

What I like most about this is that higher seeds get a fair shake at getting to the Final Four instead of having the weird scenario where a 6 or 7 seed gets an easier road to the Final Four instead of a 1 or 2.

Rule 5: There will still be play-in games to get to the Group Stage

Just like today, 8 teams will play to win an at-large bid. This could be increased to 10 or 12 if needed, but 8 seems to be okay for now.


How will This All Work?

Example: 2017 Tournament Selection 

Group Leaders – Top 16 conference winners (in order of seeding)
Villanova, Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, Iowa St, SMU, Michigan, Wichita St, Rhode Island, Nevada, Princeton, UNC-Wilmington, Mid Tennessee, Vermont, Bucknell

Group Stage: Group winners in bold. Asterisk (*) indicates tiebreaker decided by seeding
Group 1: Villanova 3-0, Creighton 1-2, Maryland 2-1, UC-Davis 0-3
Group 2: Gonzaga 3-0, Cincinnati 2-1, St. Mary’s 1-2, Mt. St. Marys 0-3
Group 3: Duke 2-1, Minnesota 1-2, South Carolina 2-1, NC Central 1-2
Group 4: Kentucky 3-0, Notre Dame 1-2, Dayton 2-1, S Dakota St 0-3
Group 5: Arizona 2-1*, Virginia 2-1, Wisconsin 2-1, Jax State 0-3
Group 6: Iowa St. 2-1, Purdue 2-1, Miami 1-2, Troy 1-2
Group 7: SMU 1-2, Florida 3-0, Arkansas 2-1, N. Kentucky 0-3
Group 8: Michigan 2-1*, Butler 2-1, Northwestern 2-1, N. Dakota 0-3
Group 9: Wichita St 3-0, WVU 2-1, Vanderbilt 1-2, Kent St. 0-3
Group 10: Rhode Island 2-1*, Florida St 2-1, Seton Hall 2-1, Iona 0-3
Group 11: Nevada 1-2, Baylor 3-0, Michigan St 2-1, NM State 0-3
Group 12: Princeton 1-2, Oregon 3-0, Va Tech 1-2, FGCU 1-2
Group 13: UNC-Wilmington 1-2, UCLA 2-1, Marquette 2-1, Winthrop 1-2
Group 14: Mid Tennessee 1-2, Louisville 3-0, Oklahoma St 1-2, E. Tenn St 1-2
Group 15: Vermont 0-3, North Carolina 3-0, VCU 2-1, Providence 1-2
Group 16: Bucknell 1-2, Kansas 2-1, Xavier 2-1, Kansas St 1-2

Sweet 16 Games (winner in bold):
Villanova vs. Rhode Island
Gonzaga vs Xavier
North Carolina vs. Wichita State
Kentucky vs. So Carolina
Arizona vs. Michigan
Louisville vs. Purdue
UCLA vs Florida
Oregon vs. Baylor

Elite 8
Villanova vs Oregon
Gonzaga vs. Florida
UNC vs Louisville
Kentucky vs. Michigan
(I stop predicting the rest of the way)


The biggest flaw in the system is ruining traditional brackets. This will change and become a tad more complicated to organize. Thankfully most bracket games are conducted online, and with some modifications in coding, people can quickly adjust to the new system

Another flaw is Rule 3. This will ruin proper seeding. A team like 2017 North Carolina, who won the ACC regular-season title but lost to Duke in the semis, would now get the 17th or 18th spot instead of a 3rd or 4th spot. It would put other teams in that group at a disadvantage by needing to play a under-seeded team.


Top 10-15 teams. No longer are they directly hindered by a one-and-done system. They get multiple chances to advance to the round of 16.

TV Networks. They now get 100 games over the first 6 days of the tournament opening instead of 52. Big advertising change.

NCAA: See TV Networks. Now they get more games to sell. They could even bid it out to more networks to cover the games.


Cinderellas – Winning one game over a 2 or 3 seed doesn’t cut it anymore. A team must win two games to advance and get recognized. This has always been the case. However, no one is as excited about their prospects anymore if a 15 Middle Tennesee beats a 2 Michigan State.

40 million people – Pretty big number. These people will no longer have the old tried-and-true fashion of completing brackets. Now it’s about group stages and re-seeding. I’m sure the casual fan will fade away as the complexity increases.

Workplaces: With 100 games, more games will occur on Thursdays and Fridays, meaning less time working and more time watching.

In Conclusion

Is the Tournament broken? No, but it’s not 100% great either. With this system, we still get the fun and excitement of the tournament with the extra padding of rewarding good teams. Bracket games will change, as will the odds of mid-major conference teams advancing. But I think a refresh of the current system can add a little bit more excitement and intrigue.

Notice major flaws or want to add to the idea? Let me know. If you hate the whole idea, let us know as well. But please at least come up with some good points.

Other Ideas Not Used

I thought about re-seeding Sweet 16 based on random draw. My head was around soccer and the Champions League as I thought it through

About Lex
Lex likes to change things that often are not broken. These are his musings.