The NCAA Tournament Will Soon Include Every D-I School

Remember back when you were a kid and you played rec-league sports? The best team got a trophy and a pizza party, but nobody went home empty handed. I was going through a box with all my old sports memories and I found a ribbon from one year that said "Participant." (Note: not a lot of first-place pizza parties in my basketball career.) ↵

↵Participant. That's the ribbon they'll be giving out to 95 teams in the NCAA Tournament if the rumor is true that the NCAA plans to opt out of its mega-deal with CBS for a more lucrative deal to put on a 96-team single-elimination event. Conversations about a 96-team tournament have been going on for a while, but there has been more steam as the deadline for the NCAA to get out of their current TV contract gets closer. ↵

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↵According to Sports By Brooks, sources tell him that it's a "done deal." ↵

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↵⇥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.⇥⇥ ↵⇥

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↵Brooks linked to a SportsBusiness Journal article from this morning that indicated the NCAA has until August 31st to pull out of the current contract, but "hopes to conclude the process much earlier." The SBJ article also indicates that CBS and Turner Sports are discussing a joint bid for the TV rights, in an effort to compete with ESPN and FOX. ↵
↵

↵Clearly this is all about money, and the more teams involved means more games, and more games means more games on TV, which leads to greater revenue. The Coaches Association, including coaches like Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski, have publicly defended expansion of the tournament because there's more money in tournament games than there are in regular season match-ups. Critics of the plan think that too many teams in the tournament would invalidate the regular season, but with many leagues deciding their NCAA participant with a post-season conference tournament, isn't the regular season somewhat invalidated already? Expanding the tournament could guarantee the regular-season champions from each conference, as well as the tournament champion, a spot in the dance. Or would it? ↵

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↵The interesting question will be where those other 31 teams will come from. How many of the one-bid leagues would get a second bid? All of them? Or would the bulk of the 31 additional slots go to middle-of-the-pack teams from major conferences? Would a team like Harvard get in this year – assuming Cornell wins the Ivy League – or would the extra spots go to another one of the 14 BIG EAST schools currently over .500? Could the 96-team tournament serve as a job saver for coaches who would otherwise be on the outside looking in, and eventually be looking for a new job? ↵

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↵And to the point of "Participant" ribbons, if they're getting into a college football situation, where simply having a winning record in a major conference (or even a strong mid-major) guarantees a spot in the postseason, you might as well invite every team and play the regular season for seedings and multiple-round byes. Ribbons for everyone! That would be madness. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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