NCAA Announces Plan For 'First Four,' Featuring Field Of 68 Play-In Games

After flirting with a 96-team field, the NCAA tournament is expanding to 68 teams. Here's how the new bracket will work.

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NCAA Bloggers React To The 68-Team 'First-Four' Tournament

The NCAA’s nebulous plan for the 68-team expanded version of the NCAA Tournament accomplishes the two things it set out to do. First, find a way to include an extra four teams in the tournament. Second, come up with a scenario so unnatural that it forces people to talk about it.

And so they are. Let’s take a look around the SBNation College sites and see what everything things.

Washington State’s CougCenter:

Those at-large teams that will be playing each other? Likely to slide into the 12-seed line. (Although they apparently could be as high as 11- or 10-seeds.) The idea behind a seeded tournament is that a No. 1 seed should have an easier road to the championship than everyone else in its region, the No. 2 easier than everyone but the No. 1, etc. So how can you say that teams that are rated up to four seeding lines higher than other teams should have a harder road to a championship — by needing to win seven games rather than six — than lower seeded teams? That goes against the very foundation of a seeded tournament.

You might say that it doesn’t really matter, since 12-seeds don’t ever make it to the Final Four or win championships anyway. That’s not even remotely the point. (Although, if that’s the way you feel, you should be in favor of contracting the tournament to 32 or even 24 or 16 teams.) Should a No. 5 seed (or No. 6 or No. 7!) get the benefit of playing a tired team in its first game? And what if the No. 12 team wins? Should a No. 4 seed get the benefit of facing a team that’s now playing its third game in five days?

That’s the problem with going for the "theater" of having at-large teams play. You’re screwing with the very nature of a seeded tournament. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well just not have a seeded tournament at all, because this sort of an arrangement just devalues the whole endeavor

N.C. State’s Backing The Pack:

As Ken Pomeroy pointed out, this is not exactly fair. (Should be fun, though.) But as Andy Katz’s story makes clear, the NCAA is of the opinion that those at-large schools are lucky to be in the tournament and have nothing to complain about. In a strict RPI sense, that may be true. But because the RPI is such a poor indicator of strength, you can bet we’re going to see underrated teams forced to deal with the added degree of difficulty.

SEC blog Team Speed Kills:

This issue cuts right to the heart of what you think the purpose of the tournament is. Clearly it’s not just for determining a champion, or else it would be smaller than 64 teams and the Patriot League wouldn’t have a guaranteed spot. I get that you have to throw a bone to the smaller conferences when they have an equal say in how things work.

What makes the tournament great is that almost every game is a competitive match up. The 1-16 games have never been great, and the 2-15 upsets are increasingly rare. Kicking the current 15-seeds down a notch and adding more at-large teams to the middle increases the number of good games. Perhaps the 2-15 games wouldn’t get much better, but the 3-14 games sure would be and so on. That would have improved the tournament as a whole.

Instead, we only get to add one new at-large to the middle and basically preserve the awfulness of what the 2-15 line has become. This is a simple ratings grab to try to actually get some viewers to tune in on Tuesday night by tossing in some borderline at-larges with the 16-seed play-in games.

NCAA blog Blogging The Bracket:

While I still feel expansion was a completely unnecessary innovation, a three-team jump was certainly the way to go, and this format, even though it smacks of trying to please everyone involved, should work well.

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So Much For 96: NCAA Recommends Expanding To 68-Team NCAA Tournament

The NCAA just sent out a press release announcing its new TV contract with CBS/Turner Sports, and it included a very surprising line about NCAA Tournament expansion (emphasis mine).

Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 Championship. The recommendation will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its April 29 meeting.  

This is an interesting move considering all the noise about how it was 96 teams or bust. It also could very well be a permanent move rather than a stop-gap decision. As Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy notes, there was nothing in the press release that indicated this was a temporary decision. Then again, the word "permanent" doesn't appear in the release either. 

Regardless, an expansion merely to 68 teams is one that fans of the 65-team bracket will probably understand more than a rapid expansion to 96 teams. 

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It's Happening: NCAA Tournament To Be Expanded After NCAA Agrees To New TV Deal

What was described as "inevitable" three weeks ago has now become a reality. Much to the chagrin of many fans of the 64-team bracket, the NCAA will expand the NCAA Tournament starting next year after signing a new 14-year TV deal with CBS and Turner Sports, according to USA Today.

The NCAA will formally announce the new arrangement in a 12:30 press conference Thursday, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

It is widely believed that the NCAA will expand from 65 to 96 teams with this move. USA Today reports that "the new agreement would expand the men's tournament from 65 teams to anywhere from 68 to 96," though it seems out of the question that such expansion would be to anything less than 96. As Ourand tweets:

Source: NCAA committed to expansion, but won't commit to a specific number today. Could be 68 or 96. Ultimately, it will prob be 96 though.    

This will certainly make Bracketology a lot more interesting. 

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Will The NCAA Tournament Expand To 96 Teams? We'll Know Soon

According to the Sports Business Journal, we should know within a few weeks whether the NCAA will opt out of its current television deal and expand its NCAA Tournament to 96 teams before signing its next TV contract. From John Ourand at SBJ:

Interim NCAA President Jim Isch is expected to reveal his decisions on tournament expansion and media rights at an executive committee meeting April 29.

Isch could come to a decision as early as this week on whether the NCAA should opt out of the last three years of its 11-year, $6 billion media contract with CBS. Several NCAA and media executives expect Isch to recommend that the association opt out of the deal and expand the tournament from 65 to 96 teams. That would likely mean that either CBS will partner with Turner Sports to carry the games, or ESPN would pick up the tournament on its own.

Finally, the article ends with an interesting note:

The tournament is critically important to the NCAA, which derives 98 percent of all revenue from March Madness.

Even if that’s not exactly right—you’d have to think the NCAA makes more than 2% of their revenue on college football—it certainly gives you an indication of just how high the stakes are for everyone involved. March Madness is not just the pastime of college sports fans all over the country and the world; it’s also the crown jewel for the NCAA, its sponsors, and whichever television network gets lucky enough to broadcast them.

Will that crown jewel get a massive makeover in two weeks? Stay tuned.

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We're Going To Need Bigger Brackets: The 96-Team NCAA Tournament Is 'Inevitable'

Seemingly by all accounts, expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams is a foolish decision, hated by fans and motivated by the dollar sign. So of course, it seems that it is exactly what the NCAA is planning to do (ESPN's Pat Forde said it is "inevitable.")

On Thursday, the NCAA held its annual press conference at the Final Four, a time used "to discuss issues associated with men's basketball and this tournament, which is integral to our association." Leading the day was NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies, Greg Shaheen, who used his time to discuss proposals for tournament expansion, specifically the 96-team field, as that is the one which has gained the most popularity (though there is also an 80-team idea and a 68-team model, which would use four play-in games):

It starts on the same day. Technically speaking it starts two days later than the current championship because it would eliminate the opening round game. Rather than starting on Tuesday, it would start on Thursday. Start at the same time as the current championship does. It would conclude on the same day. It would conclude on Monday that the current championship does, as well.

It would not require any more competition venues. In fact, it would require one fewer venues in terms of what we normally operate with now.

In terms of days away from class and time away from class and campus, the models that we have studied, depending on which you look at, offer an equal or lesser amount of travel and time away from campus based on a comparison model in looking at the 96-team model.

You may have noticed that Sheheen made it a point to say that in a 96-team tournament, the students would face "an equal or lesser amount of travel and time away from campus." Remember that.

Anyways, here's how the opening round would work: "If you were to have a 96-team tournament, it would mean that the top 32 teams, in essence the 1 through 8 seeds across four regions, would receive a bye and not compete until Saturday or Sunday of the first week." 

I'll let the Washington Post's John Feinstein take it from here.

Q. To follow up, if you're going Saturday/Tuesday, Sunday/Tuesday then with the teams that advance if they're playing Saturday/Sunday games, right?
GS: They would play Saturday/Tuesday.

Q. So you're not going to play any games on Sunday of the first weekend?
GS: No. You'd play half the games on Saturday, half the games on Sunday.

Q. The Sunday teams that advance would play on Tuesday or are you saying Wednesday?
GS: Wednesday.

Q. Basically they'll be out of school an entire week the second week?
GS: Actually, if you were to look at the window for each individual team, you have to take each team and contemplate the fact right now you have half the field leaving campus on Tuesday, returning on Sunday or Monday.

Q. If they lose. I'm talking about the teams that win and advance. You're going to advance 16 teams.
GS: No, actually in the current model you have teams that depart on Tuesday, and even if they win, return on Sunday.

Q. We're misunderstanding each other. Under the new model that you laid out, you play 64 teams Thursday/Friday. 32 advance to games Saturday/Sunday. Then you are down after those games to 32 teams.
GS: Right.

Q. You're saying you play games in the round of 32 Tuesday/Wednesday. They would then advance to regionals when?
GS: They would continue into the regional as it's normally scheduled now.

Q. So they would go Tuesday to Thursday, Wednesday to Friday?
GS: Right.

Q. So they miss an entire week of school. That's what I'm trying to get.
GS: If you listened to my original answer, they leave now on Tuesday.

Q. I'm talking about the second week, not the first week. They play a game Saturday/Sunday, play a game Tuesday or Wednesday, then go directly to the regional. Tell me when in that second week they're going to be in class.
GS: The entire first week, the majority of the teams would be in class.

Q. You're just not going to answer the question about the second week. You're going to keep referring back to the first week, right? They're going to miss the entire second week under this model.
GS: So they're going to go to school the first week, and then they're --

Q. They're going to be under the same schedule you said basically the first week, and then they'll miss the entire second week.
GS: I'm clearly missing the nuance of your point.

Q. You and I miss nuances a lot. Thank you.
(Press conference moderator) Bob Williams: Next question, please.

It seems the 96-team tournament is all but a done deal. The fans don't like it. But the NCAA and television networks want it. And even worse, after today's press conference, it appears that the NCAA has absolutely no idea how to go about instituting this. Sounds like a pretty perfect plan.

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Fox Sports: NCAA Tournament Expansion Is Not A Done Deal

Nuss, from our Washington State blog, CougCenter, informed me of a report from Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman, a reliable source, stating that the expansion of the NCAA Tournament from 65 to 68 or 96 teams is not a done deal after all. Goodman's story is based on a conversation with NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen.

In the course of the story, Goodman points out an interesting fact about the NIT that could increase the likelihood of expansion, however. 

The NCAA's deal with the 32-team NIT also expires at the end of this season and, according to sources, one of the possibilities is to end the agreement and take 31 of those teams and add them to the NCAA tournament field.

That piece of information means tournament expansion talk is certainly not going away anytime soon.

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