NCAA Greenlights 68 Teams; What Will It Look Like?

If you missed the news Thursday afternoon, the NCAA board of directors approved NCAA Tournament expansion to 68 teams, a decision which brings me great joy. The one topic left to be figured out is how the NCAA will deploy those three additional opening round games. (I've always been one to call it the play-in game, but with four games now, at least they can pull off the illusion of saying it's an opening round.) ↵

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↵It isn't impossible that the NCAA will have another idea up its sleeve, but the two prevailing schools of thought go something like this: put the eight lowest-seeded teams in the play-in games or put the eight lowest-seeded at-large teams in games. That second scenario would generally feature teams around the Nos. 9-13 seed line. ↵

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↵As a mid-major alum, I can't help but hate any scenario that puts the squeeze on the little guy in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, no No. 16 or 17 seed will put together a better resume than any No. 9/10/11/12/13, so I can't see how its right to arbitrarily award them an easier road because they won a few games in March. My thoughts tend to line up with John Gasaway on this topic for many of the same reasons. We both agree that the likelihood of someone in that final at-large group winning a game is greater than a No. 16 or 17 seed. (Well, even if we didn't agree, the numbers prove it because a No. 16 seed has never won an NCAA Tournament game, let alone made any meaningful run in the tournament.) I hate to say it, but I find my beliefs lining up with Jay Bilas, who often talks about getting the best teams into the field. Yes, a No. 12 vs. No. 13 is more compelling than a No. 16 vs. No. 17, but only marginally so. Is that bit of negligible Tuesday entertainment worth the imbalance created for the No. 4/5 seed that would get to play one of these teams? ↵

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↵More to the point, using the final eight at-larges could be incredibly problematic from a bracket perspective that might make it untenable to begin with. Look at the pool of teams who were the final at-larges this season and the range of seeds they encompassed: No. 12 UTEP, No. 12 Utah State, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 10 Missouri, No. 10 Georgia Tech, No. 10 Florida, No. 9 Florida State, No. 9 Louisville and No. 9 Wake Forest. If you put that range of teams, spanning four seed lines, into four games, where do you eventually seed them? Do you take a No. 9 like FSU, Louisville or Wake and downgrade them all the way to a No. 12 spot if you feed them into that line? While you could make the argument that a No. 5 seed gets an advantage by playing a "tired" team, that scenario would also present an argument that would really steam a lot of No. 5s for having to play a more difficult team that they would've otherwise. ↵

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↵Even if the NCAA goes with the more obvious and logical choice to feed the No. 16 vs. No. 17, there will be a scheduling matter to tackle. How committed is the NCAA to keeping its opening round games in Dayton? With the opening round winner traditionally playing a Friday game, the NCAA would face a scenario with none of its No. 1 seeds playing on Thursday. Would this also throw a wrench into how the NCAA gives favorable how venues for top seeds, forcing delays on venues about what days they'll be hosting games? The simple answer would be to move the opening round games out of Dayton and to the cities where the teams would face No. 1 seeds, possibly playing at a smaller venue. Another venue could create a production nightmare for CBS/Turner, but would it be better than having a larger venue that is empty? ↵

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↵We won't know the answer until this summer when the NCAA puts its head together to make a decision, but I imagine that unless there is a third option we aren't thinking about, the only possible conclusion is featuring the No. 16/17 seeds in opening round games. ↵

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

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