This year’s NCAA men’s basketball Tournament reveals just how dramatically things have changed in the sport.
For starters, this is the first year ever that all four number one seeds were beaten prior to the Final Four.
Purdue fell in its first game, and defending champion Kansas was ousted by Arkansas.
Alabama and Houston both lost in the Sweet 16 round.
But more impressive has been the play of mid-major teams, most notably Florida Atlantic. They not only made their first Final Four by beating Tennessee and Kansas State, they now have 35 victories, and have dazzled the nation despite not having a roster packed with highly publicized stars.
They are reflective of another trend. Thanks to the new NIL rules allowing athletes to make big money while remaining in school, these places are attracting their fair share of top players.
The transfer portal also allows schools to get quality athletes who have either already graduated but want to keep playing while pursuing additional degrees, or those disgruntled with their current school and anxious to play elsewhere.
It’s been refreshing to see some different teams advancing in the field. Even though the big conferences still get the majority of the at large berths, the Tournament field has never been so wide open.
What will be really interesting is when the field is set for next weekend’s Final Four whether the absence of perennial contenders like North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or UCLA will cause a ratings dip.
The odds are no matter who’s there, audience interest will remain high.