Expanding NCAA tourney to 96 teams is a bad idea

The NCAA is considering expanding its basketball tournament, and one option is to expand the field to 96 teams.

The NCAA is exploring whether to opt out of its current 11-year, $6 billion TV deal with CBS and expand the men’s basketball tournament field from 65 teams to 68 or 96 teams, according to a report in Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.

The publication obtained a copy of a request for proposal sent from the NCAA to potential broadcast bidders late last year. In the 12-page proposal, the NCAA outlined a 96-team split format where an over-the-air network pairs with a cable network to broadcast the tournament. CBS and Turner Sports are in discussion for a joint bid. ESPN and Fox are considering whether to do the same.

In the proposal, a field of 68 would add three “play-in” games. In a 96-team field, 31 games would be added.

Florida coach Billy Donovan says “there is nothing wrong with expanding,” while FSU coach Leonard Hamilton says that many of the teams in the NIT are better than the teams that get into the NCAA tournament.

The idea has its opponents too, like Dick Vitale (who calls it “ludicrous”) and collegeRPI.com creator Jerry Palm (who says that expanding “would just add more unqualified teams to a tournament that is already full of them.”)

I could see how an 80-team field could work and it wouldn’t do much damage to the current format. Say you have 32 teams (16 games) on Tuesday night. Those winners would go on to join the top 48 teams and play on Thursday. Most of the teams playing on Tuesday night would be small conference champs that got an automatic bid, or the very last mid-major or power conference teams that barely got in.

The quick turnaround from the Sunday night selection would be tough. Those 32 teams would have to travel to a neutral site (or 16 visiting teams would have to play on the road) with only 24 hours notice.

An 80-team field would add 15 at-large bids which would more than compensate for the few teams every year that are snubbed. But all it’s going to do is create a new list of teams that are snubbed. That’s how it works.

The question is whether or not the current setup, which awards automatic bids to “inferior” schools from small conferences while passing over mediocre-to-good teams from bigger conferences is fair. Generally speaking, I think the current setup is fine. I can only remember one instance where a bubble team went on to the Final Four (George Mason, 2006), and teams that are passed over always have plenty of opportunity during the season to play themselves into an NCAA berth.

Plus, I worry that expansion is only going to make the regular season less important, which is something that BCS apologists argue with regard to a college football playoff.

You have a good thing going, NCAA. Just leave it alone.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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