March Madness vs Bowl Season, a Debate for the Ages

With March Madness right around the corner, and hearing it from UNC and Wake fans here in North Carolina it got me thinking, is March Madness really the best postseason in sports? It’s certainly better than the NBA’s postseason, few would dispute that, but what about Major League Baseball? What about the college bowl season? With the new four-game playoff and the tradition of  bowls like the Rose Bowl Game and the Cotton Bowl Classic, it’s certainly worth a debate, so Big Fudge and I go at it. I take the side of college football’s bowl season, and he takes the side of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Join in and share your thoughts in the comments below!

College Football Bowl Season Reigns Supreme Ryan Kantor

Just like their regular season, college football’s postseason reigns supreme. After all, there’s a reason that 80% of the TV contract dollars for the ACC, the nation’s most well-respected basketball conference, come from football.

Steeped with tradition, anticipation, and road trips there’s nothing like it. I’ve never been to an NCAA tournament game, and you probably haven’t either. Who wants to buy a pass to see Vermont play North Carolina so they can see their alma mater or favorite team play later in the “session”–often in a geographically random place? Conversely, I’ve been to Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Miami for bowl games. All made for memorable road trips with friends, where we supported our team and enjoyed the rich tradition of college bowl games. (Ironically, Clemson lost all of those games, and I will be in Pasadena when Clemson loses in the National Title Game next year.)

That brings us to my biggest knock on March Madness. It’s not about your team or going to the games, it just about the brackets and the gambling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. I love making the brackets. I’ll probably make two or even three this year. I’m sure we’ll have a cheap office pool so I can over-analyze teams I’ve never heard of before ending up picking all favorites, as I always do. In the end, that’s what is it about for most people, making brackets not the actual games or the teams. People just want to see exciting finishes and check their brackets at the end of the day. It wasn’t but two years ago (before TBS and Tru TV started airing games) that your team’s first round game likely wouldn’t be even televised in full.

Beyond that, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament invites way too many bad teams. While I’ll readily admit this problem plagues college football as well–just look at 6-7 GT playing in the Sun Bowl–it’s even worse in college basketball, because it makes for uninteresting matchups. During the bowl season, the mediocre teams that invariably slip in get matched up against relatively appropriate opponents–just look at 6-7 GT beating Southern Cal. March Madness, by rule, offers the opposite. It puts not mediocre, but bad teams, up against the very best in the country. Last year we got Michigan State romping Long Island by 22 and UNC beating Vermont by 19, so don’t give me this “every game is exciting” nonsense. BOOOORING!

Now let me give some credit to March Madness. Selection Sunday is great! It is top-notch, but is mostly filled with heartache and talk of who got left out. Northern Illinois has a different story to tell about the BCS selection show. I’ll give Men’s basketball the hat tip for selection Sunday, but at the same time, that’s where excitement peaks, selection Sunday and the first pass at your bracket.

Finally, college football adds even more excitement starting in 2014 with the new four-team playoff. Instead of a giant upset prone tournament where the best teams are worn down and play in a toss-up game to determine a champion, college football will select the four most deserving teams to play in their own final four while the rest of college football still participates in the tradition rich bowl games we all know and love. March Madness is great, and I can’t wait to fill out my brackets, but it still doesn’t top college football’s bowl game.

March Madness is the Most Exciting Postseason in SportsBig Fudge 74

You’ll be in Pasadena watching Clemson lose? What a coincidence so will I, but really to watch the winners (I’ll leave it to the commenters to decipher my team). All trash talk and wishful thinking aside, you are clearly on the wrong side of this argument. Make no mistake, I am a college football guy, but even though I love the sport you’re defending and this site is your namesake, I’m not afraid to point out just how terribly wrong you are. There’s no denying  March Madness is the most exciting postseason in sports.

We all understand there is more money in college football, and I concede that the regular season for NCAA football is much better than college basketball’s, but that isn’t the issue up for debate. Neither is the fact that college football will finally have a playoff starting in 2014, we are talking about the current bowl system vs. the insanity that is the Big Dance.

You argue that there are snoozers in the tourney and while that is sometimes the case, I would argue that there are far more of these matchups in bowl season (take every game from Dec 15th-29th for example). No one cares about Arkansas State vs San Jose State in the Weed Eater bowl in mid-December, including the fans of these schools themselves. Not to mention there are 12 other games like this that we must wade through like a river of uninteresting sewage to get to the “fun games” which rarely have the excitement we hope for. Meanwhile in the tourney, upsets happen regularly. The very nature of basketball is that it is a make or miss game. If one team is making shots and the other is not anything can happen. Thus you have days like last year where two #2 seeds fell to #15 seeds on the same day! You can try to act like that isn’t exciting, but I know you pay more attention to that than any bowl game that your team isn’t directly involved in or that isn’t for the National Championship.

As for the sessions that are the standard for tourney viewing, I love them. I’ve never been to an NCAA tournament game, but I have been to a couple of conference tournament games and they were great. This time of year teams are desperate and produce some dramatic basketball theater. The whole point of going on the trip at all is to watch basketball and size up other teams if your team is to make a run. In that sense viewing March Madness live gives you that great chance and you may also get to be a part of a monster upset or a buzzer beater. What more can you ask for? Before you make your rebuttal, I just ask you to tell me truthfully what is more exciting.

This piece of quality fundamental football



Your Witness…

Closing Arguments

Up first, Ryan Kantor

You raise some great points about the excitement of the first round, with its proclivity for upsets, but you also solidify one of my biggest arguments. The excitement of March Madness peaks very early. Most would say the first round is their favorite. After that, it’s just college basketball again, which is about 1/6th as popular as college football (at least according to the dollars).

The brackets, bracketology, and gambling are to March Madness as Fantasy Football is to the NFL. It’s not the sport or the tournament we love, it’s the activity alongside it.

You see, March Madness is a lot like the World Cup, it’s a social sensation when it comes we all pretend like we’ve been following all year, we gamble on it, and then we forget it. Football is a tradition and a way of life.

The defense, Big Fudge 74

You make a valid point. Here is my counter argument:

2010 Murray State Buzzer Beater

2008 Mario Chalmers Clutch 3

2000 Gator Buzzer Beater

…and of course (below)

The defense rests.

Please join the debate in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the Facebook “Like” button on the right sidebar. You can share your opinions in the comment section below or by tweeting to @Ryan_Kantor. Thanks for reading!


7 thoughts on “March Madness vs Bowl Season, a Debate for the Ages

  1. Obviously, as a Clemson fan our football program makes bowl season much more interesting than our bball team does March Madness. If I were a a fan of some wine and cheese basketball school like UNC, Syracuse, Duke, or Wake Forest, I would be on board with March Madness being better, but to me it’s all about the brackets. Take that away for a moment, and you have a bloated tournament that doesn’t stack up, at least once the Bowl Season adds their playoff.

    It’s a tough point for me to argue, and I do love making the brackets, but hey, someone had to take each side, right? I do watch more bowl games and aside from the brackets, I do legitimately enjoy the bowl season a bit more than March Madness.

  2. Pingback: March Madness – Rise of the #16 Seed | Get Real BasketballGet Real Basketball

  3. I tend to agree with you Ryan. Back in the day when hoops players used to stay in college, the team could build their program around them. The way it is now, a lot of star players are “one and done.” How do you build a program around that?

    On the other hand, rarely does a college football player leave early for the NFL draft.

    • I wouldn’t say it is rare that a football player leaves early. It’s very common, they just don’t leave AS early. Football teams are also much larger making continuity stronger.

      Kentucky has built quite the program around one and done.

  4. Let’s be serious. The real and only possible answer here is March Madness. The first round of the tournament produces the two greatest days of the year in terms of sports theater. The bowl season kicks off with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. If those are unfair comparisons, and you want to compare the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the New Year’s Day games, that’s fine, but then you’re essentially acknowledging the first 23 games are not interesting, and then let’s not get started on the BBVA Compass Bowl and the bowl which somehow take place after Jan 1.

    Another point is that every team cares and is playing to win in the NCAA Tournament; all 68 of them. You can’t possibly convince me that’s the case in the bowl season, where that’s guaranteed to be their final game. This is why we see teams like coming very close to beating Notre Dame and then getting whacked by a miserable Georgia Tech team. Even some teams in BCS games (see: Florida, Oklahoma, etc.), and those are supposed to be some of the premier games. Could you imagine a team not caring about an Elite 8 matchup?

    I also take exception with your point about “bad” teams being in the Tournament. Those “bad” teams legitimately earn their berth into the Tournament by winning a conference championship. The bad teams in bowl games won at least 6 games. Bravo to those teams. Additionally, there were 73 teams who were bowl eligible last season out of 120 D1 FBS teams. That’s 61% of teams who made bowls. When more than 3 in 5 teams are qualifying for ‘post-season play,’ something is wrong there. Conversely there are 347 D1 men’s basketball programs. Only 68 make the big dance, which equates to slightly under 20%. Even if you add in the NIT field of 32 plus the CBI field of 16, that’s still only 33% of teams making tournaments. Yet college basketball and not college football are the ones who have “bad teams”? Give me a break.

    Quite frankly I don’t care about many of the bowl games. Even throwing out the bowl mania and the brackets, which are important. Bowl games are all independent of one another. Each NCAA Tournament game means something because outside of the championship game, there is a result that is dependent upon the result of that game. What happens in the round of 64 immediately impacts what happens in the round of 32 and so on. What happens in even the Rose Bowl has absolutely zero impact on what happens in the BCS Championship Game, assuming they didn’t completely rip up every piece of grass in the stadium.

    Ryan, I hope to watch the tournament with you and help you fully embrace the greatness that is March Madness; where anything can happen and everything will happen.

  5. You make some great points, most notably the % of teams that get into postseason play. You could even add to that argument, that the additional parody that is inherent in college basketball (due to small roster size) multiplies this effect. Hat tip for that point, but it doesn’t invalidate my point one bit. Although both have bad team, and maybe bowl season has more mediocre teams, they are paired up in what are theoretically are even matchups.

    To your first point, yes March Madness does have a better start, but a much worse finish. As I pointed out, it peaks with the round of 64. Bowl Season is a slow burn getting the equivalent of 16 vs 16 matchups out of the way, so we can get to all the 2 v 2 matchups for the second half of bowl season. Look at Clemson v. LSU this year. It was the equivalent of a 2 vs. 4 matchup, yet no 2 vs. 4 matchup could match that level of excitement because after all, they’re just going to lose in the next round to Duke.

    That leads me to a HUGE point I neglected.

    I attended Clemson during the golden era of our basketball program. That was the best four-year stretch of basketball the school has ever seen. It was a blast and we were in the touney every year. That said, nothing more than a Sweet 16 run was in our sight. Without a real National Title dream (no more than 8 or so fan bases can realistically expect such) the other games don’t matter and winning is just a longer path to an eventual loss. Conversely, in football, even with the National Championship already determined beating an out-of-conference foe means so much and defines the entire offseason.

    Plus, there is absolutely nothing like having football on TV for a month straight. Nothing. Once they get their own final four, this debate will only get hotter.

    I graciously accept your invitation to watch the first round with you (will be at a concert on Friday, but Saturday I’ll watch) where hopefully you can teach me to appreciate Portland St (is that Oregon or NY?) vs. St. Mary’s (is that Maryland, Indiano, Illinois?).

  6. From start to finish I could agree the tourney is more exciting than bowl season start to finish but the excitement in just the build up alone for the BCS games and the national title put it #1 for me.

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