A Short, Ugly History of NCAA Number Sixteen Seeds

Since the NCAA tourney has gone to 64 teams, no #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. None. Nada. Evah.

This begs the question: Why are 4 teams vying to make the last two slots just so they can be sacrificial lambs for the likes of Florida and Arizona?


The reason is cash, as Motely Fool explains:

Currently in the midst of a 14-year media contract with CBS (NYSE: CBS ) and Time Warner’s (NYSE: TWX ) Turner Sports, the NCAA divvies up this revenue based on a system known as the Basketball Fund. According to its most recent distribution plan, a little under $190 million will be split between conferences this year. The system isn’t overly complex — the further an individual team advances in the NCAA Tournament, the bigger the reward for its conference.

Participation in each tournament round excluding the championship is worth what’s known as a “unit share.” For every unit share a team earns, its conference is awarded close to $250,000 a year over the next six years — $1.5 million total. A team that loses in the first round, for example, has earned one unit share for its conference, worth $1.5 million over the next six years. A team that loses in the second round has earned twice this amount, and so on.

First given to conferences, the money is then distributed to individual teams. As Forbes points out, “some conferences equally split the revenue among all conference schools, while some provide a disproportionate share to the teams that were actually responsible for the “unit creation.”

Regardless of how the dollars are split, though, one thing is clear: It pays to be in a major conference.

Which most #16 seeds are decidedly not. But even though little Albany College, who won it’s play in game against Mount Saint Mary’s last night, is the only representative from the America East Conference to make the tourney, they’re still in line to make enough from the tourney to fund a lot of their basketball program for the next year.


But the futility of #16 seeds is jaw dropping:

Just 14 of the 1-16 games have been decided by single digits; the two in 1989 were the only ones decided by a single point.

The average gap? A Grand Canyon-like 24.8 points per game.

“I thought for sure someone else would do it by now,” said Carril, now 83, who recently sat down at an on-campus spot to reminisce about the game. “I never thought we’d be the last to come so close.”

He’s not alone. Most people close to the game are stunned that the ultimate Cinderella moment hasn’t happened, especially as parity has become the game’s biggest buzzword.

And most think it’s not too far away.

“I think it can happen anytime,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Really, it’s just a matter of time.”

If there is a sign that we’re closer, look no further than one line beneath those No. 1 seeds.

After an 11-year hiatus, a No. 15 seed has claimed victory three times in the past two years: Norfolk State over Missouri and Lehigh over Duke in 2012 and Florida Gulf Coast’s Dunk City over Georgetown en route to the Sweet 16 last year.

There have been narrow escapes lately. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Syracuse’s seven-point victory over UNC Asheville in 2012 was the first single-digit margin of victory by a No. 1 over a No. 16 seed since 1997. Last year, Western Kentucky lost to Kansas by just seven and Southern made it scary for Gonzaga, falling by six. So it would seem the climate for the shiniest of shining moments has to be changing.

“Well, I would say, yes, we’re close,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But that’s a large part because we’re a 1-seed and Western Kentucky had us down at halftime. But seriously, I do think we’re a lot closer. A lot.”


It’s like the US Olympic hockey team playing the Soviet Union in 1980. It’s been said that if the two teams had played 100 times, the Soviets might have won 99. That may not be true, but what is undeniable is the chasm-like difference between the basketball programs at Albany College and Florida. Recruiting, amenities for players, travel accommodations, practice facilities — in every conceivable category, Florida crushes Albany.

But unless you’re a die hard Gator fan, I suspect most people will be rooting for the Great Danes to pull of a miracle.


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