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A More Perfect Tournament: Jason Zengerle

Of course March Madness is great. "The best spectacle in sport." "Three weeks without equal." Blah blah blah. Not content to leave well enough alone, we want to know if it can be better. We're in search of a more perfect tournament. So, we asked a few friends of the magazine if they had any ideas for improving the NCAAs. Here's what Jason Zengerle, a senior editor for TNR, thinks we should do.

I can't really quarrel with any of the other proposed fixes for March Madness (except maybe for Yglesias's, which exhibits the sort of deep thinking more typically found in the New York Knicks' front office). But I'd like to offer a more modest proposal: Give Duke a bye for the first two rounds.

This idea might sound surprising, coming from such an avowed Duke hater as myself. But, in the past few years, I'd really come to depend on Duke losing in the Sweet 16. For four out of five seasons between 2001 and 2006, that's exactly what Duke did. In fact, Duke's Sweet 16 exit was something I greatly looked forward to each tournament: a prime-time game on a Thursday or a Friday night; an ashen-faced Coach K slouching off the court after a humiliating upset defeat; little children in J.J. Redick jerseys crying in the stands. Ah, bliss!

But then something bad happened: Duke started going out before the Sweet 16. Last year it was in the first round to Virginia Commonwealth; this year it was to West Virginia in the second round (after narrowly avoiding a first-round loss to mighty Belmont). Now, at a certain level, it's obviously satisfying to see Duke suffer the humiliation of such early-round defeats. But, at the same time, it's a huge inconvenience, as well. I mean, it used to be that a Duke hater could block off a few hours of one night knowing that he'd get his full share of Duke-enfreude. But now, I've got to watch Duke play in the first and second round games, too, lest I miss them losing. Quite frankly, it's a huge time suck.

So here's my proposal: let Duke go straight to the Sweet 16. That way I--and the countless other Duke haters--will be free to watch other games that first weekend of the tournament, knowing full well that the inevitable Duke collapse we crave is just a week away. Now, I suppose there's a risk in giving Duke a bye in those first two rounds. Theoretically, they'd only have to win four (rather than six) straight games to win the title. But given the Blue Devils's recent track record, that's a risk I'm happy to take.

--Jason Zengerle

Will Leitch: Let all teams in the tournament.
John Gasaway: Reward mid-major conference teams already.

Will Blythe: Nationalize the office pool!
Matthew Yglesias: The madness makes it work!

Gary Hoenig: Have college teams play the Knicks.
Aaron Kaplowitz: Make the NIT relevant.