Note: This story was published on April Fools Day.
Effective immediately, the NCAA has voted to add a wild card spot to college basketball's premiere event, the Final Four, the organization announced late last night. The Virginia Cavaliers were selected as the team that will advance to Dallas to participate in what the NCAA will be rebranding as the "Final Five."
The decision comes as the NCAA looks for ways to expand the tournament. In 2011, the tournament field increased from 65 teams to 68, adding 3 more at-large teams. The move was generally popular, but it faced one prevailing criticism: Fans didn't want to see more games between bubble teams; they wanted to see the best teams in the nation square off. The addition of a wild card selection to the final weekend accomplishes that goal.
"This year, our wild card selection just had to be Virginia. They won their conference, earned a number 1 seed, and were eliminated in a fluke loss because of clearly flawed officiating," explained Selection Committee chair Ron Wellman. "If teams like NC State and BYU had one shot to compete for a national title, the Wahoos deserve at least two."
As it happens, the wild card rule change wasn't even discussed until hours before it was finalized. On the afternoon of March 31st, Joe Harris went to NCAA President Mark Emmert's home. "He told me that the last few days hadn't been how he had pictured his senior season ending," Emmert recounted. "We talked for four hours, trying to figure out how to get his team back on track. At first, I tried to explain to him that the NCAA Championship is single-elimination, but after some talking, he had me convinced. Man, is that guy attractive."
While the odd number of teams makes the format unwieldy, the NCAA decided to keep the number of wild card teams at one to maintain the alliteration of the "Final Five" name. Virginia will receive a bye as a #1 seed, which leaves #8 Kentucky and #7 UConn to square off in what suddenly became a play-in game to face #1 Florida. The Cavaliers will take on Wisconsin this Saturday for the right to play in the NCAA title game.
The announcement continues a string of good news for UVA head coach Tony Bennett. His team advances to the Final Five just hours after the terms of his 30-year contract extension were announced, which includes housing on Carr's Hill, a statue in front of the Rotunda, and free Ralph Sampson sandwiches from Littlejohn's for life. "We're just humbled and thankful to be here. We just want to be sound, value the basketball, play physical, and be servants to the game," Bennett stated, as angel's wings sprouted from his shoulder blades.
UVA's re-appearance in the NCAA tournament sparked raucous celebrations in Charlottesville. Likely fueled by the spirit of this week's riots at the Universty of Arizona, students streamed from the 1st floor of Clemons Library to the 4th floor of Clemons Library to discuss the team's fortune in loud, almost "outdoor," voices. Justin Anderson took a brief break from practice to lift a car over his head, then save a batch of puppies, before missing consecutive fifteen three-pointers, deciding to save them only for crunch-time. Not everybody was thrilled about UVA basketball's success. The owner of Corner bar Trinity lamented his favorite team's 7-30 record this season, and predicted a win for "Anybody but the Hoos" this weekend; he promised that he'd be flying the non-orange and blue proudly.
[Update: This article was originally published on April 1, 2014. Happy April Fools' Day.]