The HP Pavilion crowd is in a Sharks-like frenzy. It's opening day of the NCAA Tournament in San Jose. Cal fans are chanting along with the opposition from Saint Mary's.

But, no, that scenario makes too much sense.

Same goes for busing UC Santa Barbara up Highway 101 or sailing San Diego State up the coast in one of Larry Ellison's yachts.

Competitive balance does not exist for California's four tournament teams, and we're not just talking about their first-round, distant sojourns across the country.

Our Forgotten Four face the longest roads of anyone to the Final Four in Indianapolis. It seems like the NCAA Tournament couldn't care any less about us in the Golden State, or, for that matter, the financial burdens straining America's campuses.

Related Links

When colleges are slashing staff and hiking tuition, the NCAA Tournament should keep teams closer to home. It would cut down on travel costs (which go on the NCAA's tab), and it would liven up arenas with more fans who have a rooting interest beyond their office pools.

"We'd love to have all of the teams stay as regionally close as possible," Dan Guerrero, chair of the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee, said on a Monday conference call. "But if you did that, you'd really be manipulating the seed lines."

Seed lines? We're talking about seed lines? Outside of the top three or four seeds — whom the committee has become quite adept at identifying and preserving — the tournament serves as an early-round crapshoot every March.


Advertisement

We need more than so-called upsets (see: No. 12-over-No. 5, No. 11-over-No. 6). We need more of a local touch.

Would it be so sacrilegious to make Cal a No. 6 seed in San Jose instead of the No. 8 status it'll take into Jacksonville (Fla.) on Friday night against Louisville?

Would Saint Mary's be offended if, instead of going as a No. 10 seed to Providence (R.I.), it received a No. 11 mark and a Thursday night date in San Jose?

San Diego State is an 11th seed, and UC Santa Barbara a 15th, and those automatic qualifiers (by virtue of winning their conference tournaments) certainly could have fit in San Jose. Instead, such spots feature No. 11 Washington (vs. No. 6 Marquette) and No. 14 Montana (vs. No. 3 New Mexico).

Non-California-grown teams also are having to dart cross country. Why? To fulfill the NCAA's motto: Play basketball, see the country at 30,000 feet, text your relatives back home, watch us collect television revenues at your fans' expense.

"I've always felt the people who support you, the parents of the kids, should be in a position to see their team play," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said in a Monday conference call. "When you move a team 3,000 miles, it makes it more difficult for everybody. I never thought that was right."

For Saint Mary's to reach the Final Four, Gaels faithful would have to drive 14,496 miles (according to Mapquest.com, because college road trips happen on the "road" and not in expensive, last-minute airline seats.) That includes round trips of 6,176 miles to Providence, 3,836 more to Houston and the 4,484-mile jaunt to and from the St. Elmo Steak House in Indy.

For Cal, it faces a 13,766-mile marathon, starting in Jacksonville, Fla. At least the Bears get an extra day to travel and don't tip off until Friday night against Louisville.

San Diego State fans would have to drive 13,936 miles to follow their beloved Aztecs, who also open up in Providence. UCSB's dream travel itinerary would cover 12,400 miles, and although a first-round trip to San Jose would be just 287 miles, the Gauchos instead head northeast 2,138 miles to Milwaukee for what could be a quick death against No. 2 Ohio State on Friday.

In comparison, if the Buckeyes would cover only 2,094 miles total if they were to advance from Milwaukee, win out in St. Louis and reach the Final Four.

"There always is an attempt by the committee to place a team, especially in the top line, as close to home as reasonably possible," Guerrero said.

That neither Saint Mary's, Cal, UCSB nor San Diego State are "top line" teams is their fault for on-court shortcomings. But the NCAA needs to re-examine the lay of the land, downplay middle-of-the-pack seedings from Nos. 5 to 12 and realize that TV ratings would not plummet with closer-to-home pairings for everyone.

As for HP Pavilion's Thursday and Saturday showcases, Guerrero offered this sales pitch: "A national championship could be won by one of those teams at that particular site. So I think fans should go out there and support the city of San Jose."

Those fans should have a chance to support their home teams, not just a host city.

Contact Cam Inman at cinman at bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on twitter.com/CamInman.