Bulldog Maroon & White

a Mississippi State sports blog

Why The NCAA Would Bring Back The Consolation Game

Posted by Kyle Weidie on October 21, 2008

I’m just getting around to reading John Feinstein’s book, “Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four,” given to me by my father this past Christmas. The book was published over two years ago, but contains a ton of great NCAA tournament tid-bits. Feinstein seems to jump around, but the smooth transition between the various stories reads as if you were sitting next to him at the bar talking shop.

One part which recently caught my eye was talk of the consolation game, a match between the two Final Four “losers” for third place. Feinstein recounts the last consolation game played between LSU and Virginia in the 1981 NCAA Tournament played in Philadelphia. LSU, led by shooting guard Howard “Hi-C” Carter and point guard Ethan Martin, fell to Isiah Thomas and the Indiana Hoosiers 67-49 in the semi-finals. On the other side,  North Carolina, featuring Sam Perkins and James Worthy (but pre-Michael Jordan), took down Virginia, led by All-American Jeff Lamp and Naismith Player of the Year, Ralph Sampson, 78-65.

The Hoosiers went on to be national champions, beating the Tar Heels 63-50. Virginia beat LSU 78-74 in the third place game. Both games were played under “eerie” circumstances, as Feinstein describes. March 30, 1981 was also the day that John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan. So, not many were in attendance for the LSU-Virginia matchup, and people were unsure if either the consolation or championship games would be played in the first place. But they went on and that was the last time the NCAA had a game for third place in the Big Dance.

I’ve often wondered, with the media coverage (and bracket frenzy) surrounding the NCAA tournament today, why not hold a consolation game? More times than not, it would feature a matchup between young stars that could be billed as ‘Must See TV.’ But what circumvents that possibility is the sensible approach that neither team, or coaches, could muster the will to play after halting to a disappointing stop at the doorstep of a national title.

One could argue that the outcome of a consolation game has much less meaning than even an early season gimme between a D1 powerhouse and a tiny NAIA school…..just ask a 1982 Chaminade team. But what if the consolation game meant something? What if the winner was guaranteed a spot in next year’s tournament?

Of course, this idea could not happen unless the tournament expanded. The tournament committee is not going to subtract from the pool of at-large bids, and the lone play-in game is already controversial enough. I can honestly see the NCAA tourney field expanding within the next 10 years. Perhaps the new deal will involve regular season and tournament champions from each conference getting an automatic ticket, evening the playing field for one-bid conferences.

If the NCAA were ever looking for a way to make even more money off the men’s basketball tournament, which we know they have the propensity to desire, then a championship Monday double header with four teams playing for future hopes and present titles would be the way to go.

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