A Long Way From Home: Location Bias in March

Jim Boeheim and his Orange get no respect from the NCAA

Steve Skinner wonders if something’s amiss with the NCAA selection committee. 

It’s sad.  I sat smiling and content having just listened to Duke’s stunning loss to Lehigh on Sirius radio as we drove back from a relaxing vacation in Myrtle Beach.  It was a great game full of momentum shifts and waves of runs by both teams.

Why is it sad?  I was happy for the wrong reasons.

I found myself rooting against Duke the entire game.  It’s not because of their storied success in the tournament and, it certainly isn’t because I’m a big Lehigh fan (I can’t tell you the first thing about Lehigh other than it’s in Pennsylvania).  As a matter of fact, if anything, I should have been cheering for Duke.  They are a relatively small, academic-oriented school that sits on a beautiful campus in a wonderfully charming town.  Their coach is considered a genius and usually out-smarts his opponents – all characteristics in a school and team that I would generally admire.

I am sad that I cheered on Lehigh because of anger at the NCAA.  Just prior to the start of the game the announcer declared that this was the 13th time Duke has played in Greensboro in a NCAA tournament game and, they were 12 – 0 going into the match-up with the Mountain Hawks.

Greensboro, North Carolina sits 53 miles from Durham, North Carolina – home of Duke University.  That’s less than an hour away from home.  Oh, and by the way, Duke wasn’t a number one seed in the tournament.

In the meantime, Syracuse University’s basketball team played its first two games in Pittsburgh.   Syracuse, New York sits 361 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Syracuse is a number one seed in the tournament.

Really selection committee?

If you are wondering where the other number one seeds opened their 2012 NCAA Tournament games, here they are:

- The Kentucky Wildcats began their March Madness in Louisville -  77 miles from their home in Lexington.

- The North Carolina Tar Heels opened in Greensboro – 50 miles from Chapel Hill.

Does the NCAA give Coach K and his Blue Devils an unfair advantage?

- The Michigan State Spartans started their tournament in Columbus, Ohio – 255 miles from East Lansing.

For most of the season, the Syracuse Orange have been ranked either first or second in all of the college basketball polls.   Not once (other than an AP poll in week 4) was Duke ranked higher than the Orange.  Beginning in week four, Syracuse outranked North Carolina and Michigan State in every weekly poll, yet they are the number one seed that has to travel the farthest.

My outrage goes deeper than just the distance that a team travels.  I realize that there are certain tournament sites picked well ahead of time and simply because a team is given one of the four top seeds doesn’t ensure that the team will play close to home – unless the team resides in the south east.

No, my angst is caused by the fact that Duke has now played just 53 miles from home for the 13th time in the tournament.  There is clearly a bias by the NCAA selection committee when it comes to North Carolina and Duke.  Since 1957, Syracuse has played a grand total of SEVEN games in New York state in the NCAA tournament.  Only four of those games have been within 100 miles of home (in 1986 and 1987 they played opening rounds at the Carrier Dome).

It’s not because there haven’t been games played in New York.  Numerous times Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City have hosted tournament games.  The NCAA just doesn’t want to give Syracuse any kind of advantage, but doesn’t hold Duke to that same standard.  For reasons mentioned above, this year is the perfect example of that.

Without using the number one seeds in the argument, why did Duke – a number two seed – play so close to home?  The other number two seeds all had to open in completely different states (Ohio State opened in Pittsburgh while both Kansas and Missouri opened in Omaha, Nebraska).  Why not have Duke open in Omaha and Missouri in Greensboro?   What harm would a few extra miles do if it meant a more level playing field for tournament teams?  If it was to save a few bucks, why did Gonzaga open it’s 2012 tournament in Pittsburgh – 2,230 miles from home?

Year in and year out the answer is pretty obvious.  The NCAA likes to see the media darlings succeed even if it means getting their fingers burned once in a while like they did when Lehigh sent Duke on it’s one-hour ride home.

Steve Skinner writes for TheFanManifesto. The entire FanMan team can be followed on twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on facebook by clicking here.

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