All right, you can't have it both ways. Either you love it when one of the little guys - a George Mason or James Madison or any school with a first and last name - sneaks into the NCAA Final Four, or you think this year's edition is how it should be.

One or the other.

Ever since skinny Stephen Curry of Davidson couldn't escape the clinging defense of Kansas for a game-winning shot Sunday - he passed it off to a teammate, clearly ruining the script - the consensus has been that the heavyweight Final Four of Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina is the steak and not just the sizzle.

The same people who decry college football's rigged system of eliminating the small fries in favor of the power potatoes are the ones salivating over this weekend's proceedings in San Antonio, Texas.

For the first time since the NCAA went to its current system in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four. This is either a testament to the natural selection process of the tournament or the first three games on the schedule for the NBA's Developmental League, depending on one's perspective.

This year, the NCAA has gotten its most fervent wish and the tournament has finally done its job of replicating the U.S. tax code so that the rich have gotten richer and the rest are standing in line to pay $3.25 a gallon for gas.

Is this great, or is it a reward for the huge programs with monstrous budgets that skim the cream from the curdling AAU system, who summon the best recruits with a crook of a texting finger, and who enjoy the privilege of having the tournament bracket cooked to their liking each March? Again, a matter of perspective.

Consider that somewhere around a dozen undergraduates from the four teams will be taken in the first round of the NBA draft in June. That's about one-third of all the picks, just from these four teams, and just the undergraduates. The schools rented the players, got where they wanted to go, and now will reload with another tasty meal from the McDonald's all-American game.

It is true that, unlike football, the four schools had to play their way to the Alamodome, but that doesn't make the system inherently fair. Kansas, for instance, didn't play an opponent seeded better than No. 8 along the way. UCLA played only one. Memphis and UNC each had a pair of games against teams seeded among the top five in their respective regions. (The Tar Heels did have a pretty significant advantage by not having to leave the state of North Carolina, though.)

Here's a modest proposal for the future, one that would be very interesting and a great deal of fun, and will never happen: Forget seeding. Put all 65 ping-pong balls in the barrel and just start pulling them out and putting them on the board.

Bracket wonks, NCAA committee members, and every executive at CBS would scream at that idea, of course. Teams that have proved themselves the best during the regular season should get an advantage. Really? Why? Those are the teams that don't need advantages.

(At an NCAA policy convention once, when Dean Smith was coaching UNC and Jim Lynam was coaching at American University, Smith addressed the topic at hand - limiting visits to potential recruits - by saying, "I could get by with no visits, to be honest." Lynam shot back, "I'm sure you could.")

If, as the NCAA likes to say, there are more great teams than ever, and seedings don't really mean anything, then prove it. Spin the barrel and see what comes out.

They'd sell a lot more advance tickets in Dayton for the play-in game if it had a chance to be Duke-UNC than if it was the yearly meeting between Bugtussle State and Chattahoochee River Valley Tech. The teams that are currently sentenced to be No. 16 seeds - all five of them, if you consider the play-in teams at 16a and 16b - wouldn't always be stray limbs for the woodchipper.

The energy-eaters would still stomp their way through the bracket most of the time, but at least the programs with the largest carbon footprints wouldn't get to arrive by SUV limousine. Let the Tar Heels fly to Boise for once, play the noon game, and open up against Michigan State. You want Madness? You got it.

In the previous 19 tournaments, the championship has been won by a No. 1 or No. 2 seed 15 times. The exceptions were Florida in 2006, Syracuse in 2003, and Michigan in 1989, all No. 3 seeds, and No. 4 seed Arizona in 1997. You have to go all the way back to 1988 Kansas (No. 6) and 1985 Villanova (No. 8) to break the string of expected champions. No double-digit seed has played for the title, and only two - 1986 LSU and 2006 George Mason, both No. 11 - even advanced to the Final Four.

So, if the unpredictability of the tournament is what you love best, perhaps it's time to make that a reality instead of a mirage. The three games this weekend in San Antonio will undoubtedly be good basketball, but there's not a single possible outcome that could be called an upset. There is only the matter of which school gets the full deposit back on its rental equipment.

Contact columnist Bob Ford
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