Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

96 team tournament would be a mistake

America loves brackets. This is a mantra I repeat often; mostly because I love the NCAA Tournament.... as currently constituted. There has been increased rumblings this year that the tournament will expand to 96, and I've touched on my thoughts earlier this year. But today brings the news that Big 10(11) commissioner Jim Delany, one of the most powerful individuals in collegiate athletics, used the word probable when discussing the possible expansion. If he's talking "probable," then it's probably coming.

It's easy to see why he would view expansion as probable. The NCAA will make more money; CBS, who I'm assuming will re-up their contract, will be able to show more games, over a longer period of time (making more money); Universities will have an easier time making the dance, and its lucrative exposure, thereby making more money; coaches get to keep their jobs (and make more money). Everybody wins in this equation... except people who care about regular season basketball.

As it is, the importance of the regular season is being diminished. Conference tournaments, combined with the tournament itself, kill the excitement of the college basketball regular season. Wins and losses only set you up for the two March tournaments. Relatively speaking, a big win (or loss) in January means nothing; as long as the rest of your "body of work" is acceptable, and you can always make up for lost time in your conference tournament. This concerns Delany too. In the linked article he is quoted as saying "I'm not looking to see the basketball season made less relevant because we do an expansion without knowing a lot about this." He knows, as well as anybody else who follows basketball, that this idea will be ruinous to the regular season.

For an example of what an expanded field would look like, you can simply add 31 of the 32 teams from the NIT to the Tourney. Expand the tournament to 96 games, and the diluted regular season issue is intensified. Suddenly anybody with an above .500 record (in a major conference) is "on the bubble." As much as I love the CU basketball team, there is no way they should've been in any sort of NCAA tournament discussion this season. Same goes for UNC, UCONN, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, Northwestern, South Florida, NC St., Cincinnati, Illinois, St. John's, or most of the other teams in the NIT that failed to make the current 65 team Tourney field. Who of this group really needs to be represented in the dance? If you're expecting some sizable amount of small schools to get tossed in, you've just fooling yourself; it's gonna be big schools, from big conferences, with 17-15 records.

("You're fooling yourself" if you don't think that this is just a cash grab)

Yes, only 19% of the 347 Div 1 basketball teams make the tournament, but that number is just eye candy. I doubt the true div 1 credentials of many of those teams, and that stat just leads me to believe that div 1 basketball needs to be split up in much the same way that football is.

(That's a lot of teams. link for full view)

At the end of the day, I just don't believe that there are 96 teams in division 1 on a yearly basis that deserve a chance to compete for a national championship. The Tournament should be exclusive. Yes, it is a shame that some deserving teams miss out. But you don't need to include 31 more teams to ensure that one or two deserving teams don't get jobbed. That'd be like performing surgery with a chainsaw: you'll probably do more damage than good. Expand the Tourney to 68 teams (4 play-in games) if there must be expansion. It's a much more sensible solution to an almost non-existent problem.

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