NCAA Championship Week's automatic bids.  Brian Noe hates them.  I love them.  We debate. @JoeBianchino

Championship Week.  To me, and to many, it's the single best week on the sporting calendar.  A week packed with instant classic after instant classic, great finish after great finish.  A week in which we find ourselves enthralled in the endless action, forgetting that so many of these teams are merely earning the right to go to the NCAA tournament and try to lose by 20 and not 40.  And why?  Because it's not about records, it's about earning to the right to play on the game's biggest stage.  It's what makes the week so special: the pride, the emotion, the pressure, the elation.  It's poetry.

And yet, as there so often is, there remains a segment of the population unconvinced.  A sinister, jaded few who find this week of weeks a preposterous example of some kind of flaw in the system; who think that bids to the NCAA tournament shouldn't be decided in this grand manner.  As you may have guessed (at least in part because I said it in the above paragraph) I am not such a man.  Thirsty for a debate, however, I went to Brian Noe, who is.  My esteemed colleague and I could not stand more diametrically opposed on this subject.  Mr. Noe refers to this sacred week as "Handout Week," one in which undeserving teams can go on a run and steal what is rightfully their opponent's.  And though we disagree, we both found ourselves eager to try and change each other's minds...or at least just yell at each other a bit (like we did when I called in to discuss the topic on the Noe Show - link found below).  And so I give you Championship Week, or Handout Week, a point, counter-point debate.  Joe Bianchino For, and Brian Noe Against.

FOR: You win your league, you get a chance.  That's the greatness of March Madness.  It's the excitement generated by winning your conference - however middling - and earning that birth.  The excitement of Bracket Sunday when you find out that you're playing Duke in prime time.  The excitement of getting your shot, standing on equal footing with a team so absurdly your superior and having a chance to beat them, having a chance on the national stage.  Where else do you get that?  You don't in football.  Let's say you're Davidson. Congratulations, you've won the Southern Conference in football. For your efforts you'll be rewarded with a spot in the Wheat Thins Who-Gives-A-Crap Bowl where you'll take on Southern-Northwestern Kentucky.  But in basketball?  You head to the same tournament as everyone else and get a shot to make that gripping, dramatic run to the Elite 8 like you did in '08.  There's a one-of-a-kind drama in these bids, and it is too good to pass up.

AGAINST: My guy, Joe B, writes something that I initially agree with.  He loses me quickly though.  I read his first few lines like this; “You win your league, you get a chance. Blah, blah, hobba, lobba, lobba.”  The beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that David gets a shot at Goliath.  I’m not disputing that at all.  However, David has to EARN that shot.  That’s my gripe.  Going .500 (or worse) in a BS conference, then going on a four-game winning streak during the conference tournament isn’t earning a legitimate berth.  People look at a conference tournament championship as if that equals a great body of work overall.  It doesn’t.  There isn’t a system anywhere in sports (except the NCAA Tournament) where you can go winless in the regular season, yet win your conference tournament, and people will say you “earned your way in.”  Brutal.

FOR: So is your problem with the automatic bids or the fact that there are some conferences that let all of their teams into their tournament?  If each conference only allowed the top half of their teams to get in would that fix it for you?  Or are you looking for a tournament that picks the best 68 at large teams, cause I've got to be honest, the latter would be disaster.  I mean honestly, would you rather see an NCAA Tournament that is preceded by a slate of high drama, high intensity, high stakes conference championship games and features the Champion of the SWAC and Big Sky, or an NCAA Tournament that is preceded by tournaments that mean absolutely nothing and feature the 13th and 14th teams from the Big East?  I don't know about you, but I pick the former, even if it means that occasionally a team that has no business being there sneaks in.  You can't possibly argue with the greatness of the drama created by these tournaments, right?


Against: Automatic bids (based on the winner of the conference tournament) are garbage.  I want to see the best representative from each conference in the Big Dance.  The NCAA shouldn’t be providing handouts to the NCAA Tournament.  Western Kentucky got a handout this year.  They were 15-18 this season (7-9 in the Sun Belt).  They won their conference tournament.  Now, they’re in the tournament.  Brutal.  You don’t need to allow only half of the teams in the conference to compete in the conference tournament.  Sometimes, there are a few teams that are in the top half of a conference that still have horrid seasons.  Allow every team to compete, but don’t give an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament to any team (even an awful team) based on their successful conference tournament triumph.  Include the conference tournament in the overall body of work.  Don’t treat it separately from the regular season.  Look at the entire resume of teams from the beginning of the season to the end, not just the end.  Determine which team is the best representative from each conference based on that.  Championship Week (aka Handout Week) loses a little spunk because of this process?  So be it.  At least teams EARN their way into the NCAA Tournament instead of hitting an illegitimate lottery.

For: And there-in lies the flaw with Mr. Noe's well put together argument.  Championship Week doesn't lose a little spunk.  It looses all meaning.  Who in God's name is watching the SWAC, or the Sun Belt, or any of the random conferences that barely earn a spot in their schools' newspapers - let alone national TV - if these games don't mean the world?  The drama isn't reduced, it's eliminated.  And that is why Brian and I will never agree, why there can be no resolution between us.  Because although his criticisms are spot on, no matter how seemingly large a flaw exists in the system, I am simply unwilling to eliminate, or even reduce, that drama.  I am unwilling to let go of the excitement and the passion, the unique simplicity of it - win and your in.

There's a thrill I derive from watching, not the Big East or the ACC, but the SWAC and the Big Sky.  There's an uncorrupted joy I find in watching guys who aren't destined for the NBA - guys who play college basketball not as a means to a professional career end, but because they love the game - fight for the right to play on the national stage that has eluded them...

Until now.  Because now they have a shot.  One game to rise to the challenge.  To make it count.   To claim their spot in the dance - and who knows what happens from there?  One game.  That's the beauty of it.  The simplicity.  One game.  That's what brings out the emotion and drama that makes this week what it is.  So in a way, maybe Brian is right.  Maybe it is, at times, a handout.  But you know what?  I'm not sure I care.  If you deserve to be in the NCAA's, prove it in your tournament.  Because - call me an overly sentimental fool if you want, I wouldn't blame you if you did - but all of that is just too perfect for me to pass up.