Its that time of year again. Spring is in the air, snow has begun to melt, and most importantly, the NCAA tournament is mere days away.
Of course, the tournament wouldn`t be what it is without upsets, Cinderella stories, and controversies. As always, the selection committee started the controversy firestorm by leaving out big schools with impressive records, this year most notably Boston College and Auburn. But perhaps the biggest - and most publicized - controversy belongs to Bingham Young University, the number twelve seed in the south bracket. BYU, a staunch religious school, does not play on Sundays for religious reasons. This has been a practice of the school for many years and comes as no surprise to anyone. Just one problem - should BYU make it to the sweet sixteen, they will be matched up to play in San Antonio on Sunday, March 30.
As soon as the brackets were announced Sunday evening, it became apparent that something had to be done to correct this glaring mistake. Early Monday the NCAA announced that should BYU make it to the third round, they will be switched to the South bracket, and avoid playing on a the Sunday in question. Of course this presents a problem to one of America`s greatest work traditions - the March Madness office pool. It should be noted that one of the reasons the tournament enjoys such commercial success (it ranks second lagging only the Superbowl in terms of TV revenue) is the excitement of the office pool.
It could be a logical conclusion that now as the NCAA stands to have the proverbial egg on their faces, from their point of view it is absolutely critical that BYU not make it into the sweet sixteen. BYU enter their first round matchup against fifth-seeded Connecticut Thursday afternoon as decided underdogs, and should they win that game, they face an even tougher task in the round of 32 against the winner of San Diego / Maryland, and will most likely face the defending national champions.
This situation raises an important question for bettors - should they expect anything out of the ordinary in terms of refereeing, and more importantly, is knowledge of the NCAA`s position on this matter advantageous when placing their bets?
There are two ways to look at this situation, the first being that the NCAA cannot afford to any more embarrassment to arise from their error. From this standpoint, one would think the smart bet would be against BYU. It is not unheard of for referees to get "caught up in the moment". This type of questionable refereeing has come up twice in basketball in recent months, Game 6 of the Western Conference finals last season between the LA Lakers and Sacramento Kings, and again last December in the final minutes of LA`s miraculous comeback victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The second, and perhaps less "square" way of analyzing this game is although the NCAA would clearly like to see BYU bow out quietly, and early, they cannot risk chancing the public perception of foul play, that being that they interfered in the game in any way. Of course this introduces another element - the huge pressure that is now placed squarely on the shoulders of the referees appointed to call the game. With the national media spotlight clearly focused on this game, the referees will perhaps feel extra pressure to avoid any controversial decisions. Any call that could go either way must go BYU`s way in order to prevent finger pointing at the NCAA after the fact.
Either way one thing is for sure - we are about to enter perhaps the most exciting month on the sports calendar. Enjoy.
- Paddy McCarthy is a contributing writer to North America`s number one sports and gaming information site, majorwager.com.