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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Back when the NCAA announced that it was expanding March Madness to 68 teams, there were two dominant theories about how this would play out in the bracket.
The first was that the additional three at-large teams would simply push down the automatic qualifiers from lesser conferences, effectively having 16/17-seeds fight to play 1-seeds in the first round of the tournament. Given that the folks at the NCAA likely wouldn't go to the trouble of adding three more at-large teams (presumably lesser teams from power conferences) merely to have them eliminate each other in play-in games before making the field of 64, this seemed like the odds-on choice.
The other possibility was that the new at-large teams would square off in play-in games for the right to play 5/6/7-seeds. This would decidedly add more intrigue to what has been fairly bland play-in fare, but it would get rid of half of the additional qualifiers before even getting to the main event.
So which option did the NCAA choose? In Solomonic fashion, they have split the difference, with the last four at-large teams in the field playing for spots in the 64-team field, as well as the last four automatic qualifiers vying for spots opposite 1-seeds in the opening stanza, per Andy Katz of ESPN.
The four play-in games -- dubbed the "First Four" -- will take place on the Tuesday or Wednesday following Selection Sunday, and will be aired on TruTV. The winners of the at-large games will play either a 5, 6, or 7-seed depending upon where they themselves are seeded (i.e., two 11-seed will play each other for the right to play a 6-seed, or two 12-seeds will play to win the chance to take on a 5-seed, etc). The winners of the play-in games between the automatic qualifiers, however, will still play 1-seeds in the first round of the tournament. The appeal for the NCAA with this hybrid approach to these play-in games is that rather than solely being the province of directional schools from lower-tier conferences few fans have either heard of, half of the games will feature "name" programs that should generate (better) ratings.
This expansion compromise is certainly quirky, but there are a few pratfalls that will likely come to the front with the new play-in games between at-larges. For one, 4-seeds will have a definite gripe that lower-seeded teams get the advantage of playing fatigued teams in the first round, while they do not. Secondly, the selection committee will have to justify why certain 5/6/7 seeds will get the benefit of playing tired teams, while the others do not. Expect plenty of controversy ahead.
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.
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.
Few things have aroused such vehement opposition as the proposed expansion of the NCAA tournament to 96 teams. Sure, a few dissenting voices have tried to champion the contrarian argument, but by and large, the consensus is why mess with perfection? After all, it's not as if anyone ever looked at March Madness and said "you know what this is missing -- the NIT field!".
Apparently incoming NCAA Chairman Gene Smith is among those lukewarm at best when it comes to expanding the NCAA tournament. Although Smith doesn't have a say on whether expansion happens or not -- the current batch of NCAA chairmen will make that decision -- Smith would be the one who would have to implement the first 96-team tournament, should they decide to go that route.
And, as ESPN's Andy Katz relays, Smith is on the record as preferring a more modest expansion -- although he has begun planning on how some of the dynamics of a 96-team tourney would work:
"I don't have a real perspective of what 96 would look like," Smith said. "I really don't, and I think most athletic directors and basketball people would say they would prefer it go to 68." [...]
"I'm a traditionalist, and I like the configuration we're in now," Smith said. "That's not to say there aren't some attractive elements to 96. I do see the excitement of doing something different."
If 96 were to occur, the most dramatic effect would be on the conference tournaments and their importance. That's why Smith is taking a college football approach to this matter. Smith is on board with what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski suggested at the Final Four: There has to be an automatic qualifier for the regular-season champ. If that happens -- along with maintaining the current automatic bid for the tourney champs -- all conferences, from the Big Sky to the Big East, would have the chance to get at least two automatic berths.
But Smith said college football's regular season is important because it determines the bowls. To mimic that and make college basketball's regular season just as important, there must be an importance put on being the conference regular-season champ.
Smith admits that "no one" is actually talking about a 68-team tournament, and his plans for regular season conference champs to automatically qualify for a 96-team field -- something the NIT currently does -- sounds as if he's already put a decent amount of thought into how the larger field would work.
If Smith's bracing himself to carry out a 96-team tournament, it's probably time for fans to accept it as well. At this point, it certainly seems inevitable.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Just because Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany no longer has a direct say in the NCAA decision-making process doesn’t mean his opinion isn’t informed. Delany once served as chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball committee, has massive influence of collegiate athletics, and now says it is “probable” that the committee will expand the NCAA Tournament field to 96 teams. In order to expand the field for the ’11 Tournament, the decision will have to be made this summer. Discussions are expected to start April 29th when the NCAA board meets in Indy.
Delany himself seems to be against expansion, which he thinks would damage the regular season, an argument you may have heard him make in defense of his precious BCS. So, perhaps we should be happy Delany no longer has any control over what college basketball does with its postseason.
As SB Nation's resident bracketologist, I can't say that I'm happy about the potential growth of the tournament to 96 teams. In fact, not too long ago, I argued that we should scrap the play-in game and go back to a 64-team field.
Teams already have the opportunity to play their way into the field both through the regular season and the conference tournaments, which act as a de facto set of preliminary games for the main event.
Plus, from a completely selfish standpoint, I've had a hard enough time over the past few weeks trying to find 34 at-large teams for a bracket. I really don't want to contemplate having to find 65.
In my opinion, the NCAA will expand the field in the simplest way possible. The NIT will simply disappear, folded into the NCAA field. The new 96-team field will be filled with mediocre-to-poor major conference teams, with the occasional cameo from a deserving mid-major.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Earlier this evening, I discussed the matter through a series of text messages with a friend, and he gave me an idea for expansion that keeps the purist and mid-major lover in me happy.
This idea is actually an extension of a tournament reform proposal I explored over the summer, just modified to reflect the new 96-team reality college basketball seems to be racing toward.
The solution is simple. Reward good performances in both the regular season and conference tournaments by granting each conference two automatic bids.
Under my plan, each conference's regular season winner would get a spot, as a reward for a season's worth of excellence.
To keep the conference tournaments relevant, the winner of those events would get spots as well. If the regular season winner should sweep both titles, the team finishing in second place in the standings would get the conference's second bid.
Let's take a quick look at how the numbers would shake out if this scenario was applied to the field for my bracket projection for this week.
Of the 31 conferences who receive automatic bids to the NCAAs, 22 of these received only one bid this week. That number would double to 44 under my plan.
The other nine conferences received multiple bids, accounting for the other 43 spots in the 65-team field. Under my plan, the number of auto bids for this group would jump from 9 to 18. Their other 25 spots would be at-larges.
That means we'd have 62 auto bids and 25 at-larges, a total of 87 teams. We'd only have to find 9 more teams to reach 96.
So, much to my surprise, it is possible to expand the field while keeping the regular season relevant, keeps the importance of conference tournaments and helps ensure that the extra berths don't all go to mediocre major conference teams.
Which means it doesn't stand a chance of actually happening.
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.
According to reliable source, the NCAA is considering an expansion to a tournament field with 96 teams. According to a less reliable source, the NCAA's already considered it, and the change is a "done deal." Let's take these one-at-a-time. First, from John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal:
The NCAA has its sights set on expanding from a 65-team tournament to either 68 or 96 teams if it opts out of the CBS contract, according to the 12-page RFP.
A 68-team field would add three "play-in" games to the current 65-team format, and a 96-team field would expand the tournament’s inventory by 31 games. [...]
The NCAA is considering whether to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after the Final Four in April. The deal has three years and $2.131 billion remaining.
Should the NCAA opt out of that deal with CBS, they'd theoretically have the flexibility to completely revamp the structure of March Madness—a 96-team field, multiple networks airing games, games throughout the week, anything. And undoubtedly, they will wield that flexibility like a sword, fighting for every last television dollar they can get. While the NCAA Tournament is perhaps the most universally beloved sporting event of the year, it belongs not to the universe, but to a bunch of old men in Indianapolis.
To say there's a disconnect would probably be understating it. It's a relationship that's perhaps best explained by a man from Texas named Cody. During the swarm of controversy over Texas Tech's firing of Mike Leach, Cody emerged to crystallize the relationship between Tech fans and the administration. And at the same time, he accidentally nailed the relationship between the NCAA and college sports fans, in general. From Cody:
You have to remember, that they live in houses where there’s no TVs in the living rooms. There’s just big shelves of books, and they listen to NPR radio on a little transistor radio. And they drink Ensure out of a frickin’ straw. They have their food catered to them, and they get a new Cadillac every year.
They don’t live in the real world. They don’t understand what is to be a fan. They sit behind a glass partition and they sit there with their rich little smirks on their faces… So you understand how it was back in Medieval Times, with the Kings and peasants. They don’t care about us!
So keep that little rant in mind, when you read this speculation from Sports By Brooks:
An ESPN source said, "It’s a done deal with the expansion of the tournament. Depending on how soon a (TV) deal is done, the added teams could start next year. The NCAA confirmed that bidders would be interested in 96 teams, so they’re going with it."
Another ESPN source confirmed to me that the network was in the formative stages of pondering a bid for the expanded tournament.
Would the NCAA be better off with a 96-team tournament? Of course not. It's already to difficult to argue the merits of college basketball's regular season. With 96 teams, schools in the major conferences would be all but guaranteed entry into the Big Dance, and it'd undoubtedly chip away at some of the mystique inherent to the experience. That, and the greatest virtue of March Madness is the egalitarian elements of bracket play; powerhouse programs have to face mid-major teams, and justice is served out on the court. With 96 teams, that'd be gone, too.
Top seeds would get a bye in the first round, and mid-majors would likely fight amongst themselves in the first round, wiping out half of the would-be challengers to college basketball's blue bloods.
What are the positives, then? More money for the NCAA, it's assumed. And even though the NCAA totally, completely, in-no-way-shape-or-form condones gambiling, it'd certainly generate a ton of interest from Las Vegas, and gamblers across the country, eager to turn their office pools into full-on orgies of chaos. But that's it. Those are the positives. More money, and more money being gambled. So, a question for
the NCAA rational people. Do we really think the benefits outweigh the costs?
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