I read on ESPN today that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated that expansion of the NCAA men's basketball tournament from 65 to 96 was "probable." It sounds like a big mistake, for two major reasons.
First, the basketball side of things. Further diluting the tournament doesn't seem like my idea of making the tournament more fun. And you have to think that a lot of those teams will be the middle-of-the-pack power conference teams. I know that, because 14 of the 32 NIT teams were from BCS conferences. You'd also presumably be giving some teams a first round bye, which means that a lot of those bottom-seeded teams, the 14, 15, and 16 seeds, won't get a chance to play Kentucky or Duke. Instead, they'll have to face off against N.C. State or Dayton just to get a chance to get walloped.
Will it create the opportunity for more upsets? Sure. Siena has a much better chance of beating Northwestern than they do of beating Syracuse. But you watch because every once in a while, you get a game like Ohio vs. Georgetown this year, or Iowa State vs. Hampton from back in 2001. You watch because the upsets seem so improbable, and the big ones are so rare.
Additionally, from a business standpoint, I think expansion is a mistake. You've got a great thing going, where the first round games account for over a billion dollars in lost productivity, a tremendous amount of Internet traffic, a massive afternoon ratings boost for CBS, and probably increased business for sports bars and restaurants. It's essentially a sports fan's holiday. And I haven't heard any logical way for that excitement to be preserved in an expanded bracket.
Speaking of brackets, how on Earth are you going to fit 96 teams on one sheet of paper so you can cross off your picks as they (inevitably) get bounced?
The one thing that's been good about Delany's comment is the discussion it's prompted in the sports world. Doug Gottlieb has his opinion, all of my local sportscasters have theirs, and I had a discussion in the office today with a couple of co-workers about positives and negatives. One suggested that he'd be alright with adding more teams as long as there was some effort to ensure that most of those additional bids went to schools in small or mid-major conferences, and I echo his sentiment on that. Teams should have to earn their way into the tournament; Kent State (24-10, 13-3 in the MAC) accomplished more in 2009-2010 than N.C. State (20-16, 5-11 in the ACC), so they are more deserving of an NCAA tournament bid in my book.
One thing we can all agree on, though. Even 96 teams would be better than the BCS.
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