Column: College basketball rankings a waste of time
Jan. 26, 2009
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
I was watching "Around the Horn," a talk show on ESPN, last week when an interesting topic came up. The panelists were debating which college basketball team should be ranked No. 1 in the country.
Bill Plaschke, a sports columnist for The Los Angeles Times, said college basketball rankings are a waste of time. That got me thinking: Why are there rankings that try to tell fans which college basketball teams are the best in the country?
They are a waste of time, they do not mean anything and they change too frequently for the common fan to be able to keep up. A common fan will know which team is better -- or if the teams are nearly equal in talent -- simply by the teams' records. In addition, there are too many different ranking systems. ESPN has its own poll that is usually somewhat different than the Associated Press rankings.
For example, in the Jan. 19 AP poll, North Carolina was ranked No. 5, but in the ESPN poll for that week, North Carolina was ranked No. 6. That is very confusing for fans to follow, as the AP poll is used most commonly while the ESPN poll is used only by ESPN and its affiliates.
College basketball is just too unpredictable to try to rank teams. How else do you explain a 12-5 Virginia Tech team, with a loss against a mediocre North Carolina State team, beating a previously undefeated Wake Forest team on the road? What is the point of rankings if a team such as Harvard can beat No. 17 Boston College, but Boston College just knocked off preseason No. 1 North Carolina?
Rankings have no bearings on how a game ends. Teams play just as hard whether they are ranked higher or lower than their opponent. A higher-ranked team does not intimidate lower-ranked teams, and higher-ranked teams usually do not take lower-ranked teams for granted. Both teams go out on the court, play hard and in the end, the team that plays the best basketball on a particular night wins the game, regardless of rank.
If the rankings are accurate, shouldn't the first through fourth ranked teams get the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament in March? Well, that isn't always the case. The rankings don't always determine what seed a team will get.
Last year, Duke finished the year ranked No. 9 in the AP poll. So they should have received a three seed, right? Wrong. Duke ended up getting a No. 2 seed. Clearly, the tournament selection committee does not abide completely by what the rankings say.
So why have them? It would be so much easier to wait until the end of the year to hand out higher tournament seeds to better teams with better records and not have to take into consideration if a team was ranked No. 1 at one point during the season. All that matters is the end result.
All in all, there is not much to complain about when it comes to college basketball. It is the best-run sports organization, in my opinion. If fans did not have to waste their time deciding which ranking system they want to believe, college basketball would be the perfect sport. Nothing in sports can compare to the excitement of the March Madness tournament. It is the one time in the sports year when truly anything could happen and it could continue to happen without preseason and in-season rankings being applied to teams.