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Bad Idea: NCAA on Verge of Expanding Men's Tournament to 96 Teams

NCAA Vice President Greg Shaheen outlined a plan today that would expand the 64-team tournament to 96 teams. The report detailed how much time off the players would have and the revenue distribution that would result from the expansion.

Just great.

The only question is, why stop at 96 teams? Why not include all 347 teams that qualify under NCAA division I-A men’s basketball? We may as well open it up to local community colleges. Rec leagues?

In 1985 the NCAA set up a 64-team tournament that remained untouched for over fifteen years. In 2001, in a completely unnecessary but still acceptable move, the tourney was expanded to 65 teams. Since that time March Madness has run like a well-oiled machine all the way up to this year, a year filled with Cinderella stories and massive upsets.

You don’t have to look far beyond the stack of money the NCAA feels it’s missing out on to see the motivation behind this move. Ten years ago, CBS purchased rights to 89 NCAA properties, including the tournament, for $6 billion dollars. It’s been said that March Madness contributes to about 90% of the NCAA’s annual revenue. With ad revenue up 30% from last year, the forces behind the big dance have been looking for a reason to increase the amount of tournament games for a while.

The truth is, the tournament needs to be expanded like the human body needs another appendix. The format is perfect right now. With the tourney as we know it today, everyone plays. If it were to be expanded, the first set of games would include a bye for the top 32 teams. That means we can all look forward to a riveting 33 vs. 96 match-up in the first round. No 16-seed has ever beat a 1-seed in the 64-team tournament. What are the odds that teams that barely cracked the top 96 will have a shot past the first round?

The division I-A board of directors isn’t the only group pushing the idea of expansion. Understanding how volatile dealing with young players can be, many coaches have been long time advocates of expanding the tournament. Traditionally, making the tournament has meant job security. The coaches generally dismiss the idea of diluting the tournament with more teams by explaining that this allows teams that were on the bubble a fair shot at the championship.

Said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith: “I don’t see any watering down at all…I think there are a number of teams playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be more people and more excitement with more teams in.”

According to the expansion plan, the amount of time the tournament takes will remain unchanged. The players would be kept out of school about as long as they are now; however, winning teams from the first round would be out an entire week rather than a few days.

It’s always nice to hear how time-in-school will be impacted by the tournament, as we know that’s what the NCAA’s number one priority has always been. The governing body may as well omit all mentions of the word “student” from their press releases and merely refer to the players involved as athletes. They’re not fooling anyone.

At the end of the day, this whole expansion boils down to an issue of dollars and sense. Just once, it would be nice to see the NCAA focus a bit less on the former, and a bit more on the latter.

What do you think? Are you for or against the expansion plan?


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