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Expanding the NCAA Tournament may still happen

Put me down as being in favor of this.

The NCAA started talking about [expanding the men’s basketball tournament] in the fall, along with numerous topics in all 88 championships, and hasn’t gotten past the discussion stage yet.

“It’s still a work in progress, so there’s no further developments or status from (the fall),” NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said. “It’s just a series of ongoing dialogues with interested parties, but nothing definitive to even analyze at this point.”


Whether it’s increasing the tournament field to 68 (four play-in games instead of one) or enveloping the NIT to make it a 96-team field, more teams are bound to add up to more excitement, the thinking goes.

“If you’re talking about adding more teams, I don’t think the games would change a bit,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “They’d be just as competitive and I think you’d see more Cinderella stories, more teams people didn’t think had a chance and there’d be a lot more upsets if the NCAA expanded the tournament.”


In the current format, 18 percent of the teams get into the NCAA tournament and another 9 percent receive invites to the NIT. That’s far below the number of teams that get postseason berths in football: 68 of 120 teams, or 56 percent. By comparison, 53 percent of NHL and NBA teams get into the playoffs, 37 percent in the NFL and 26 percent in baseball.

I made the relative percentages argument back in 2007 when I first heard about this. As I said back then, expanding to 96 teams would only require adding two more days to the event. The top eight seeds in each region get a bye, and the remaining teams play on Tuesday and Wednesday to reduce the field to 64; from there it’s business as usual. I’m old enough to remember when the tourney had only 48 teams participating, so to me at least there’s nothing special about having 64 teams – excuse me; sixty-five – as we do now. Besides the NIT, which would be obsoleted by this expansion, there are two other postseason tournaments now in existence, so it seems to me there’s plenty of demand for a bigger product. I think the argument in favor of a 96-team event is strong, but we all know what it will come down to.

The NCAA has an 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS, but can opt out after this season. It has already consulted with several networks and isn’t likely to pull the trigger on expansion without a green light from TV. CBS has a strong interest in keeping the tournament and other networks are reportedly putting together bids.

“I’m sure what’s best for TV is what’s probably going to happen and we all have to understand that,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We wouldn’t have the following we do in college basketball if it weren’t for TV. As coaches and players, we’re just playing games, and we’ll be fine with whatever it is.”

That’s about the size of it. For an opposing view, see John Royal.

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One Comment

  1. Linkmeister says:

    I tend to agree with Royal. It might be interesting for the fans, but it wouldn’t have much impact on the actual national championship, and it would eliminate some of the whining on Selection Sunday. I mean, before he retired, Billy Packer was always good for an extended rant about some 12-13 team from his favorite conference (ACC? SEC? Can’t remember which it was) that was passed over in favor of a mid-major that had gone 22-5 against “weak” competition. That always made my day.