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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