NCAA tournament expansion still possible
The NCAA has met with conference commissioners, university
presidents and athletic directors about the possibility of
expanding the men’s basketball tournament.
So far, it’s slow going.
The NCAA started talking about expansion 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.”
It certainly hasn’t stopped the conversation.
Many coaches and administrators like the idea of expansion and
believe its a necessary step to accommodate a growing game. There
are more teams than ever – 347 in Division I – more depth in the
bigger conferences and more talent at the mid-major level.
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
“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
Another argument is that a larger field would give teams from
smaller conferences a better chance of getting in. Giving automatic
bids to the regular-season and conference tournament champions
would reward consistency while still allowing for surprise.
“That would add more relevance to the regular season, instead
of just having big games being bracket busters and things like
that,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I could see it going to
96, but if they do, I would like to see the regular season champs
rewarded. That would give the conferences who don’t get more than
one bid a chance to have two bids. If you expand, you would want
that to happen.”
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.
But to some, that low percentage is part of what makes the NCAA
The NCAA tournament, in a way, is like The Masters in golf.
Because it’s such a small field, just getting there is an honor and
adding to the field could cheapen the accomplishment. Expanding the
tournament also could devalue interest in the regular season,
reduce drama in postseason conference tournaments and possibly
weaken the NCAA field.
“I think it makes it a really special tournament when only 64
get in,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “I really like the
way it is right now.”
The heart of the issue is, as is always the case, money.
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
“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.”
Expanding the NCAA tournament would not be simple. The NCAA
would have to figure what to do with the NIT, how the brackets
would be set up, how to handle byes, if it means the athletes will
be away from school longer, how the money will be divided up.
“I’d like to take a look at all that before I pass judgment on
whether it’s a good thing,” Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw
said. “The 64-team tournament has been special.”
The counter argument? If it is so special, why not let more
teams and players feel it, too?
“The magnitude of the NCAA tournament now is so big that it’s
just a great experience for a kid to have that opportunity to
play,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “Most guys in college
don’t go on to play professionally, so if you can say you played in
the NCAA tournament, that really kind of changes your career as a
college basketball player.”
For now, it’s all speculation. The NCAA isn’t sharing details of
its plan – to the chagrin of some coaches – and doesn’t seem close
to making a decision.
“It’s worth discussing, but I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone who’s
come up with what would be the best formula,” Kansas coach Bill
Self said. “Football can’t figure it out and they deal with a lot
less teams. Just adding a few, there’s a pro and a con with
everything, so I don’t know what the suggestion or the formula is.
But I do believe it will be expanded in the next decade and I do
have feelings that somebody will figure it out.”