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NCAA Tournament First Four Play-In Games Seeding

The Format

Beginning in 2011, the NCAA Tournament went to a 68 team format. With this format there are 8 teams that play in what are called the "First Four" games to get a spot in the actual 64 team bracket. One thing you will notice is that the play-in games include four of the 16 seeds and a combination of 11 ,12, 13, and/ or 14 seeds for the other two games. A common question that is asked, and one that puzzled me as well is........ "Why do the First Four games not use all the 16 seeds?" or Why are there 11, 12, 13, and 14 seeds in the First Four games. We are here to try and clear this up a little.

A quick explanation on the NCAA Tournament Selection/Qualifying Process: There are 32 conference championship winners that automatically qualify for the tournament, and the other 36 receive "at-large" bids, which simply means the selection committee feels they deserve to be in the tournament. Read complete details on How the NCAA Tournament Works.


The NCAA Selection Committee takes all 68 teams and ranks them from 1 to 68. The First Four games will feature the lowest ranked 4 teams that receive the automatic bids via winning their conference championship, while the other 4 teams are the lowest ranked at-large bids. So, typically the Conference Champions coming from the smaller conferences will be the lowest ranked teams and make up the 16 seeds in the First Four. The reason that we see 11, 12, 13 and 14 seeds(which are the at-large bids) in the play-in games is because when the committee ranked all 68 teams, the conference champions took all of the lowest spots, while the lowest ranked at-large teams were up in the 11, 12, 13, and/or 14 seed spots.


I would have to say that I disagree with the process here. I feel that the 8 lowest ranked teams should be the ones battling it out for the chance to play in the big dance, as 16 seeds! The reasoning behind this........ Why should the 11 seeds have to play each other in the First Four, while you are essentially giving a bye to teams that you have already ranked lower than these teams?