By Mark Buckets
Tonight, the battle Royale that is the NCAA Tournament's play-in game will unfold on the smallest of stages, Dan Blackburn Court at Dayton Arena. Two teams will slug it out for the right to get slugged at the hand of one-seeded Kansas. The fans (all 40 basketball junkies that live in the area amongst friends and family) will attend this game and have a Tournament memory forever....their very own One Shining Moment.
This is a game that is seen through two very opposite spectrums. On one hand, you have a team that is just happy to there, in Florida A&M. The Rattlers have the nation's worst RPI of any tournament team, and their conference, the MEAC, has the second worst RPI to boot. Now, the reasoning behind that is simple. Historically black colleges and universities, such as Florida A&M, the rest of the competing MEAC, and the SWAC, have basketball programs in place to support the rest of the athletic departments (along with some academic programs!). Therefore, they need guarantee games to begin the year and usually come out bruised and battered, with less-than-stellar records. Because of this, their conference RPI and respective team RPIs suffer dramatically.
On the other hand, you have a Niagara squad that feels slighted in getting sent to play in Dayton on a Tuesday night. Coach Joe Mihalic has been outspoken, to say the least, on the legitimacy and reasoning of the play-in game. The popular argument, and quite possibly the correct one, is that this game is all about money. After the Mountain West was formed, the NCAA was in a conundrum: Do away with an at-large birth (Preferably given to one of the BCS Conference Schools), or add another game, depriving a lower-conference school of a shot to really enjoy the big stage of the tournament. Of course, we know what drives intercollegiate athletics today, so, the "Opening Round" Tournament game was formed.
To the average viewer, this game is nothing more than another teet to the cash cow that is the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. When analyzing the motives and reasons for this game, one has to come to a simple conclusion: Let the Game(or games) begin.